“By the Numbers” by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer


Two hundred ninety million.
That’s how many dollars Monsanto
was ordered to pay the dying man

when the company failed to warn him
about how the poison they made
to kill weeds would also kill him.

Two hundred ninety million.
That’s how many miles
the Voyager 2 moves away

from the earth every year. And though
it was made to do so—to travel
past our sun’s magnetic field—who

could blame it for moving away
from this dying planet at
thirty-four thousand one hundred ninety-one

miles per hour. If that number were dollars
today, it would be equivalent to eight thousand dollars
in 1977 when the Voyager 2 was launched.

And eight thousand, that’s how many sacred
elephants there were on the banks
of the Six Tusker Lake in the Himalaya,

elephants who flew in the air, and sages say
the Buddha himself was once born as son
to the chief of these eight thousand elephants.

Yes, sacred and magical things happen here
on the earth, despite the greed,
despite the poison. I was seven

when the Voyager 2 left, and since then
it’s traveled eighteen and a half billion miles.
If those miles were pounds,

that would equal more than a million
large African elephants, though in all of Africa,
there are only four hundred fifteen thousand

elephants left, down from five million
just a hundred years ago. What I am saying
is that as the Voyager 2 enters interstellar space

things are strange here on Earth, and we seem
hellbent on our own destruction, but I
am so grateful to be here, still. Even as

the Voyager 2 hurtles beyond the heliosphere,
I find myself still falling in love
with the twenty-seven thousand three hundred seventy-five

days I have to live,
and the earth’s twelve thousand
species of grass, and the five thousand stars

visible to the naked eye and the two hundred six
bones in the body, all of them working to help
us run toward beauty, yes, grateful

for two hands to hold one beloved face
and, amidst all this enormity, the absolute absence
of sufficient words to say how holy, how incalculable is love,

and how marvelous, really, to stare up
into the familiar night sky and imagine
all boundaries we’re just beginning to cross.

from Poets Respond
December 13, 2018


Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer: “It was so thrilling to hear about the Voyager 2 and its travels beyond the heliosphere. Imagine! Out where matter is made from other stars that exploded 5-15 million years ago! But when NPR broke it down in numbers, trying to make the Voyager 2’s feat more accessible, the numbers were still too large to mean anything to me, so I figured I’d find ways to make the numbers more personal.” (web)

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