response to the challenge by Bill Ender — Math in Poetry

Jane Vogel
Nov 11 · 2 min read
Photo by Benjamin Lizardo on Unsplash

Most people use numbers for counting,
or measures, or ‘times,’ to subtract, or for adding,
and even square roots (also some rounding
as needed, maybe creative padding).
Real digits should match fingers or dollars,
big or small, written on paper or screens.
Cauchy, Euler and Gauss, mathematical scholars
found a hole in the number line, which means
someone wrote, “square root of negative one
equals what?” We don’t know. We’ll invent i!
Imaginary numbers! Really! What fun!
Let the engineers figure the how and the why.

After all the equations, one question lingers:
Can math students grow imaginary fingers?

In fairness, Hero of Alexandria (around the first century AD) may have found imaginary numbers in an equation and assumed they were an error. Other mathematicians over the next few centuries argued over the need for or meaning of zero and negative numbers, so the possibility of imaginary numbers existed but no one took it seriously before Gauss, Euler and Cauchy stopped erasing the inconvenient negative signs in the 17th century.

As a student in physical therapy, I was required to take two semesters of calculus in college. Things went well until one day — fortunately towards the end of my last semester — the professor brought up the subject of imaginary numbers. I will confess to a major attitude about the entire business. Numbers were not supposed to be imaginary. If I had wanted imaginary anything, I would have taken more literature courses. Probably, this was how a lot of the old mathematicians felt about it. My husband, who actually used math as an insurance attorney with an actuarial background, assures me that there are people that find imaginary numbers helpful.


A response to Bill Ender’s great challenge for Math in Poetry mash-ups:

poetry that dares to be funny, edgy, irreverent

Jane Vogel

Written by

Writer, translator, grandmother. Writing and volunteering because it’s healthier than throwing shoes at TV news anchors. @JaneBV4

No Crime in Rhymin’

poetry that dares to be funny, edgy, irreverent

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