Tuesday poem: Heron’s formula

February 8, 2016

Heron’s formula

A lesson in trigonometry,
the white heron forms triangles
with legs as she inches forward
< obtuse, acute, obtuse >
and reeds write the shape’s third side,
grass and leg linked by my needy eye.

Each retraction from stillness
seems a matter of regret;
a fall from Greek statue
into hungry, stalking GIF.
Silent as a wish, she moves
towards the modest,
root-dwelling fish.

A split triangle
wedged into head axes down,
teaching the dumb water
a critical formula: working an equation
on softer bodies.

Heron swallows, then cries triumph,
and the noise is the croak
of a thirty-a-day frog
krarkkrarking imperfection —
a broken kaleidoscope of notes —
a pocket full of clashing change.

The breath of the eager teacher
who tried to show me the
dubious wonders of triangles,
to draw them on my brain,
swings into memory
with a scalene sharpness.
Sound conjures smell;
ear and nose separated only
by a stretched vinculum of years.

Angel microbes swarmed
in his every exhalation,
armed with gleeful mallets
for playing smell croquet —
sulphur tapped through nostrils —
blunt, yet sharp and jangling.
He could not know that
he was Alice with stink flamingos;
heroic feathers tickling
before, and after, each own goal.
How could I breathe and think
under such an unnumbered cloud?
A limp fish, I soon failed.

The elegance of herons
undercut by noise;
the perfection of mathematics
negated by disgust.

I paddle off, towards firm ground,
away from the sharp, white assassin,
and the chopped pools of recollection.

P.S. Cottier

ship-went-away

 

This poem was just commended in the World Wetlands Day Poetry Prize, judged by Sarah Day, so I thought it would be nice for people to be able to read it.  The winning poems are posted at the link, and very good they are too.  The site itself is as cool as a rockpool and thrice as pretty.

This is an unusual poem for me in that it combines the natural world and memory and mathematics.  I am innumerate, so the maths is the most freaky part.  The poem recalls someone being turned off the so-called Queen of the Sciences for life.  Sometimes the division between authorial voice and real author is pretty swampy.

Heron’s formula has something clever to do with triangles, I think.  Personally, I am satisfied that the sail on the swanboat in the picture above is a most definite triangle.  I passed Shapes at kindergarten with flying colours.

Click this link to see which other poets are Tuesdaying.

 

6 Responses to “Tuesday poem: Heron’s formula”

  1. melindasmith said

    ‘he was Alice with stink flamingos’is perfect. You should get a t shirt made

  2. pscottier said

    Why thank you. Pink or brown, that is the question.

    I expect you are busily preparing for a certain reading tonight?

    (Melinda is reading at Smiths at 7pm, dear other readers.)

  3. So disappointing that a creature so perfect eats flesh.
    a broken kaleidoscope of notes —
    a pocket full of clashing change …brings one back to reality.
    Great you got on the short list. The site IS very refreshing…especially on a hot day as we have here!

  4. pscottier said

    From speaking to Tim Jones I get the impression that a hot day in New Zealand is 25 degrees, but perhaps you mean really hot!

    Glad you feel refreshed by the site Helen!

  5. Hah! Here in New Zealand, we have dozens of degrees. Dozens! (Often at once.)

    And based on the elegant combination of mathematics, poetry and memory here, I fear you may be underselling your affinity with maths…

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