Multiplication tables

I sit on the rosy pink potty
in the bathroom my sister and I share,
automatically look to the right,
to the wall above the toilet paper
nestled in its chrome cave,
study the list in my neatest
sixth grade printing taped there,

a carefully constructed table
beginning with the twos—
because the ones are easy,
so are the threes, really.

But from the fours on up,
except for the tens with their
telltale zeros on the ends,
I need help.

So every time I sit here, I gaze
right, trying to memorize
combinations of numbers that
swim before my eyes like midges
rising from a stream, unaware
of hungry trout beneath.

And if I don’t completely absorb
the multiplication tables, others
in this spot certainly have—

my sister, two years younger,
always so much more nimble with
numbers than I,

even our father, who
occasionally emerges,
announcing, “7×8 = 56!”

I try again and again to embed
these equations in my brain—
the math teacher not willing
to accept a poem to make up
for my last disastrous test—
feeling the slithery digits slip
away from me in a way that
words do not.

The numbers escape, even as
I chase them, calling their names,
wondering what I need to do
to make them stop, smile,
chat a bit, to want to become
my friends.

Photo / Jan Haag

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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