Summer Arithmetic by Maya Stein

A volume of seawater, waded up to at the ankles, equals let’s take it slow. A ripe peach,

sliced into quadrants over the kitchen sink, equals there is more than enough. Kittens,

asleep on the shower tiles, equals listen to your body. The first of the tomato flowers

plus an afternoon downpour equal you are safe, my love. Sweat equal work times

patience. A blade of grass equals work times patience. Boats clustered in a makeshift

marina equals all is not lost. Sprinklers and Fiona equals the brief disappearance

of worry. The neighborhood dogs times two or three equals you have not lost your touch.

Breakfast waffles plus humidity equals stop feeling so guilty. A full moon

divided by four equals a full moon. Your father’s last birthday times time

equals infinity.

Summer Arithmetic

The subtitle to this delightful poem is or: when it’s too hot to think. We’ve had some of those too hot and humid days so far this summer (not complaining) and I’m intrigued by what Stein has done with her concrete observations of the outside world and her felt inner sense of these summer experiences. She is a Maine poet, living on the coast so she starts with wading in seawater, equating it to let’s take it slow. A sliced peach equals there is more than enough. Already I’m with her, immersed in these evocative responses to summer.

Kittens, tomato flowers, sweat, grass, boats, sprinklers, dogs, surely you have known all of these things in your own way. Yet perhaps your particular math has not added up to listen to your body; you are safe, my love; patience; all is not lost; the disappearance of worry, you have not lost your touch. The addition of these simple things is more than the sum of its parts.

Breakfast waffles without guilt and a full moon divided by four are wonderful equations. But the one that touched me most deeply is the last: Your father’s birthday times time equals infinity. Loss is both a subtraction and a multiplication – the way someone we love echoes through our lives long past their time on earth.

This isn’t the kind of arithmetic I learned in school but I much prefer it. Just letting the mind float on the summer air, making unexpected connections. Try it yourself. And check her out for other of her ten line poems. https://mayastein.com/poetry

8 thoughts on “Summer Arithmetic by Maya Stein

  1. Dear Jan, it is such a joy to hear your reflection on Stein’s poem. Your voice is so present in my ear as I read your words – as though you pressed your tone, your rhythm and pauses into an electronic boat and raised its sail. Thank you.
    Love,
    Candy

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    • Dear Candy – your response is a poem in itself – ‘as though you pressed your tone, your rhythm and pauses into an electronic boat and raised its sail’ – wow! thank you so much my friend, love Jan

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  2. Dear Jan: What a delightful, astute poem! Your reading of this line moves me, with its depth and perception: “Loss is both a subtraction and a multiplication – the way someone we love echoes through our lives long past their time on earth.” Thank you. xoxo

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  3. I am going to try it, “Just letting the mind float on the summer air, making unexpected connections.” I will have to report back on what happens. Thanks for your neat poems, Jan. Most of them I have never heard of. They are interesting.

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    • So pleased that you are enjoying these poems Donna, thanks for letting me know. I look forward to hearing about your adventures with letting your mind float 🙂 Love Jan

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