I Don't Know Why My Mind Goes Numb with Numbers

Music: Prelude in G Major.
By Dimitri Shostakovich. Sequenced by
J. Marques.

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Copyright by
Nicholas Gordon

I don't know why my mind goes numb with numbers.
A couple of months ago, in the Kittay House elevator,
I met a man in his nineties who smiled at me.
"How many cubic feet in a three-foot cube?"
He asked. I panicked. I should have known right away.
"Nine," I said, knowing that had to be wrong.
"Look it up!" he chortled. "Look it up!"
The elevator stopped. I got off. It hit me.
"Twenty-seven!" I said. To myself. Too late.

About six weeks later, again. Same man. Same question.
"How many cubic feet in a three-foot cube?"
Same superior smile. I know you don't know.
Again I panicked. I didn't remember the previous
Time. Nor did he. Is Alzheimer's catching?
"Nine," I said again, knowing again
It was wrong. And then, again, after
The elevator doors had closed: "Twenty-seven!"
I imagined the old man chortling in his victory
Over ignorance. My ignorance.

What is it about numbers that makes my mind
Go numb? Maybe I don't like questions with answers
That make me look stupid. Smug answers,
Chortling in their victories. Right answers,
Exposing me naked to the heehawing rain.
Answers to questions I haven't asked.
Easier not to know even where to begin.

Copyright by Nicholas Gordon



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