A lesson on multiplication

by Judy Kaber
The Waters
First Place, June 2010
Judged by Fiona Sampson


A girl in my class is obsessed
with babies. Each spare minute
she draws them, their large heads
bobble on the page, forever nodding.
No words enter their minds.
They never speak, hold hands,
or even wave. They exist mutely,
before language, all staring eyes,
wide raucous mouth. If they think
at all, it is in pictures, raw images,
bands of color with undulant threads,
circular shapes that bring comfort,
mottled air that brings hunger or grief.
They know nothing of math, less even
than the girl who draws them instead
of cobbling meaning from the story
of Tom with his two dozen eggs
and a desire to bake cakes.
No numbers appear.
Only hair. Lips.
Longing.


This is a deft, never cautious, astonishing poem. It makes us think differently about girls and their daydreams, about classrooms – and above all about babies. A real feat and above all no hostages to sweetness along the way. --Fiona Sampson

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