“Algebra” by Sarah Brown Weitzman

Sarah Brown Weitzman


Whenever I hear a train whistle
I think of someone leaving, always
leaving, never arriving. This
melancholy bent of mind can be
traced to high school algebra
where we studied problems of time
and space: “Two trains leave
from depots 107 miles apart.
One train travels at a rate of 29 mph
while the other at 77 mph.
At what point will they meet?”
For all I ever understood of algebra
the question might have been:
“Name the engineer.” So I would drift
into a different time and space
where real imagined dangers increased:
What if these two trains were traveling
on the same track and what if the signalman
forgot to switch the tracks and what if—
Oh, Lord, I’d pray, carried away, please don’t
let them collide! This was when the teacher
seeing how wide-eyed I’d become
would call on me.

—from Rattle #19, Summer 2003

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