“Calculus” by Joel Chace

Joel Chace


impossible to have sat
through class after class
to have scrawled a reams
worth of lined paper with
homework that would look
like Arabic now to have
taken an actual goddamn
final exam jesus and not
just pass it but end
up with a flying mothercolor
grade 35 years ago 35
years all burned
away like valley fog
to remember nothing except
that Mrs. Barnhart the teacher
already near the end
of her long road over
the math mountains and had
cranked around far too
many switchbacks would
say at miraculously random
moments the words “value” or
“and yet” it’s absolutely
true and it was like a
whacky gift she kept on
giving for instance
she’d say turning away
from the rune-crammed
blackboard chalk dust misting
off her fingertips and cheeks she’d
say “that’s the
way we lick that
problem … value” or
“just remember this
formula you’ll
be all right … and
yet” 23 “values”
and 21 “and yets” the
record for one forty-minute
period Mary Pat Doyle with
the jet black hair kept
track her face still floats
up in dreams still
that young and stunning and so
does Mrs. Barnhart’s still hard
and thick like granite like
marble which she’s definitely
mouldering under by now what would
it be like to find both
of them again Mrs. Barnhart and say
“there was something of
value after all” and Mary
Pat Doyle and say “look
we can’t undo a thing we
followed certain signs
and countersigns and we are
where we are and yet
if we’d ended
up together that might
have been a perfect solution

from Rattle #11, Summer 1999
Tribute to Editors


Joel Chace: “My maternal grandparents were farmers and staunch Upstate New York Republicans. Across town, however, lived my paternal grandparents, who I would visit regularly. This grandfather was a brakeman on the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, and he voted for Eugene V. Debs every time Debs ran for president. My grandmother was a painter. My mother worked for a time on Wall Street. My father was a jazz trombonist and vocalist, who was on the road for a dozen years until his marriage in 1942. I write in order to come closer to understanding my own origin and being, out of the vortex of these lives.”

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