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(Philosophy and Fun of Algebra by Mary Everest Boole, 1909)


Mary says, angels are great, but you gotta know when they’re fucking with you.

Like, for example, Jacob: most people see angels somewhere Mary says is pretty—
clouds or flame—but Jacob sees them on a ladder, which Mary says is unromantic—two sides reaching toward each other that can never touch.

Do you disagree?

A little girl prays to Mary: the powers of darkness must be the wolves under my bed because they disappear when the sun rises.

Mary says put all the facts in one column and the sums in the other.

This leaves space for adding more facts.

Angels, Mary says, lead to algebra because they lie.

An angel cannot tell you how many petals there are on a buttercup.

Solve for the great unknown, Mary says, the sacred X.

Image = fact = madness until proven true.

I set you children a lesson, Mary says. Our unknown is I am.

The angel comes with a message about a broken link or a loose chain.

Infinity, Mary says, equals how many children, how much cake.



Beth Bachmann is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the author of three books from the Pitt Poetry Series: Temper, Do Not Rise, and CEASE. She lives in New York City.




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