The man who invented negative numbers
always felt he lacked everything.
As a child, he had no pet guppies,
while his best friend had ten.
His dog could walk minus one leg,
while everybody else’s walked on four. He played
many games of she loves me/she loves me not
with the petals of chance which always ended
on she loves me not. Plus, he liked to take away things:
the feathers off birds, the legs of spiders, the wings of flies
and he loved opposites: good/evil, up/down, vertical/
horizontal, so why not positive and negative—
why not the opposite of 2 is -2.
Besides, didn’t a number, like everything else,
have to have a shadow? Didn’t every number have a sister spirit
to keep those who have from becoming too greedy
by reminding them that something existed to the left of 1?
(He himself had a tendency to spend money he didn’t have.)
He had a fear of abandonment, afraid of being left
only with zero, without his rulers and abacuses,
but he also loved numbers and wanted more of them—
as many as possible. He believed that after a hard day’s work
being used by merchants and those who cheat, numbers
deserved to relax into nothingness,
into their own kind of negative capability.
He liked to watch mountains trees and lakes
disappear into nothing at night,
then positively reappear in the morning.
He watched how people prayed
to something they couldn’t see
but was supposed to be there
because it meant they could hope some goodness was there.
Hope, like the hope on the face of the poor child
who wanted food so badly, for hoping meant
one day, even bread would appear
on a table set beautifully with silver, bread, and meat,
his faith that the opposite of no food could exist.,
the meat multiplying because that’s how it is,
the product of nothing times hope equals grace.