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



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.

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Adding up was one thing, boring as thick porridge,
each sum a trial rather than a triumph, but I could
do it, just, stir that numbered pot, when teacher-cook
required us to follow her bland, lumpy recipe.

Once spicy symbols joined the foul stew, however,
I was forever lost. Mathematics was a language
alien to my brain, slipping off unformed synapses
like bald car tyres on slick roads. I crashed out.

I comforted myself with the appearance
of her pimpled acolytes; thick glasses flashing
as they squealed their joy at piggy feasts of number.
I was vegetarian amongst eaters of formulaic flesh.

I still am. My brain is one-sided, and it walks like a sailor
who has lost his wooden leg, but can’t read the compass
to save his limp, to save his salty soul. But so what?
My mathy albatross still stinks — and I’ve sailed different seas.

P.S. Cottier


This poem appeared recently in The Canberra Times. Unfortunately, the first word was inadvertently removed, which made the whole poem a little difficult to understand. I thought I’d post it here in its uncropped form.

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