it all came down like algebra

Tectonics shift in the cupboard next to my head
A new variable in the algebra of the room:
the NPR announcer’s voice, the gush of water
from the faucet, a crackle and a crash.

Algebra: Arabic,
from al-jabr meaning “a reunion
of broken pieces”

My sister is a nurse. She tells me
hospitals are edifices of algebra.
Each bed contains
an equation to be solved.


All of my drinking glasses: why did they enter
my life only to unleash their algebra
one night in February? They are sketches
of tigers mid-leap. Still able to scratch.
The fragilest of problems to solve.


Funny to think through all of history,
Pandora’s box winds up being an old cupboard
secretive as algebra, on my kitchen wall.


My husband is a custodian. He grabs a broom and dustpan
and begins to sweep. “You are fine,” he repeats.
I imagine gluing all those pieces back together,
tasting wine sipped from algebra.


Outside, algebra is the bulb of the traffic light
and the ventilator in the ambulance whizzing past.
It is the oak tree
smiling at the world it created.


My heart is a mathematician. It quickens,
nourished by the algebra­
it drowns in. A-positive, B-negative. No,
I do not know my type.


The letters in algebra
are unknown variables.
The brackets under shelves
are unknown variables.


I prefer the washrag and plate in my hands
to any algebra underfoot:
the solidity of x
to the inferred question of y.


My brother is a welder,
soldering the algebra in metal
with a white-hot torch.

Variable: Latin
from variabilis meaning “likely to bend”
In algebra, “having no fixed value”


When the kitchen floor is clear of variables,
the internet supplies more drinking glasses.
My kitchen will contain an algebra equation
I finally understand.


Majorly revised poem from a few years back. Constructive criticism welcome.

Published by


I am a writer for an e-Learning course vendor near Chicago.

2 thoughts on “it all came down like algebra”

  1. This is what I find really interesting about this poem: even though you’re using the structure of the original differently than Stevens did, it still works well to convey your story/meaning. While Stevens is looking at the same symbolic blackbird and finding different meanings for it in different situations, you are looking (in at least 8 of the stanzas, I think) at the same scene where your cupboard fails and all your glasses break, and expressing different facets of your reflection of that same scene. I think it works well because that multifaceted, broken-up reflection/retelling mirrors the theme of algebra–of broken pieces fitting together. I especially liked the definition stanzas, and where they were placed in the poem seemed just right.

    The last stanza, while being a resolution to the story, for me doesn’t seem to be a thematic resolution or conclusion. The second line seems trite: “Look everything’s fixed now. Thanks, internet.” (I read it without this line, and it was already stronger.) But since no real change has happened (the glasses have just been replaced, reset to the beginning), it makes me doubt the narrator’s new “understanding”. Does he think he’s immune to glasses breaking now? Does he think his whole kitchen is *only* one equation (pushing back on “*an* algebra equation”)? What has changed in his outlook? Also, we don’t ‘understand’ equations as much as we solve them, just like we don’t bother trying to understand how broken the broken glasses are as much as we try to solve the problem of glass everywhere. I do like the first line, the “floor is cleared of variables”, and how it ties to the stanza before it.

    Oh, just noticed you have a mirrored structure: how 3 & 11 and 6 & 8 all start with “My __ is a ___”. I like the structure this adds to the poem, and each one of them is an interesting reflection of its own. Other phrases I really liked: “They are sketches / of tigers mid-leap. Still able to scratch.” and “the solidity of x / to the inferred question of y”.

Tell me about it.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s