A Mathematician’s Sonnet

So algebra is not aligned to taste:
A bunch of letters dancing without need.
You find the dancers nothing but a waste?
My friend, some words on this you ought to heed:

We start with adding, just as shepherds did
To count their flocks when sent to fields by day.
Subtraction’s just some adding being hid
At dusk, when sheep are sent the other way.

The builders found a need to multiply
When roofs that needed thatch and floors were laid.
Then came the lengths, with measurements to try
The patience of the architect’s tirade.

And so, foundation set, we built a realm
With algebra to set upon the helm.

— ptkh 06.12.18


A student spoke of writing a sonnet, and I mentioned that I’d written some once, once upon a time. She sounded like she didn’t believe me, like this wasn’t something that she’d expect a math teacher to do. I said I’d written some villanelles, once, too. But I couldn’t tell her if I still had them, because as much of a packrat as I am, I’m a disorganized packrat.

In a closet in the house of my mother-in-law, now deceased, I found two cases that I used to use, as a small child, as a child the age my son is now, to keep all my homework papers. I thought I’d thrown them out years ago, and yet, here they are. I haven’t looked in them because it feels like it’s something I can put off for another few weeks. And I’m not sure I want to see. They’re Al Capone vault, and I know they will be far more boring than I remember.

Somewhere, I have a book I wrote when I was in first or second grade, about a dog that’s caught in a snowstorm, being hunted. Somewhere, I have a book I wrote when I was in middle school. In the back is a Polaroid of me in a turtleneck and a pretentious cap, with a pipe in my mouth. The pipe I’d borrowed from Stephan Vernier’s father.

Years ago, I found Stephan on the internet. He was living in the Netherlands. He didn’t seem to want to remember me. We had been best friends in middle school, but even though we hung out in high school, he pushed me away.

Yesterday, I found the villanelles. They’re twenty years old. I suppose I wrote them when I was on Grex, when the internet was still dial-up and text-based and innocent and weird, around the time that I was a selfish person who was so very content in his spiritual grime. And the people who only knew the outer layer thought I was a jester.

I think that’s how all jesters are.

I think I need to write another villanelle.

White Dusk

fate’s fickle finger
is cold gray steel
filled with hot white pus

angry and impotent:
it is its impotence that
makes it angry
makes it flash across the sky
makes it rain down blood
like hot lava
in the fading day

this is the sunset

tonight, the white man in the moon
will gaze down sideways
at what he’s wrought

tomorrow will be a new day
filled with color and brightness
as wisping white clouds
throw diminishing shade
on the world below

but here, at dusk
fate’s fickle finger
is cold gray steel


Mindful of the road, I
Make my way forward, still
Melancholy, still quiet…
Muddied in still waters,
Muddled with clarity.
Might another false step
Matter? I cannot say.

— ptkh 06.03.18