Thomas Festa/ poem: The Algebra of Origins

Algebra, Latin for computation;
surgical treatment of fractures;
derived from Arabic, al-jabr, 
the restoration of anything missing, lost, 
out of place, lacking;
hence, the reunion of broken parts.
On the school playground,
my daughter broke the birdlike bones
of her left arm. 
In a sudden downpour, a tree 
falls out of common usage,
split low on the trunk. 
The forest remembers dead languages, 
the radius and ulna, forgotten paths.
She didn’t cry her whole time in Emergency. 
Shock retold each new face the jagged tale,
how she broke her fall.
My little daughter’s bones 
set in sleep and draped in fiberglass
begin to heal. 
She discovers the aftermath below
the poplar that struck our deck,
dead swallows in a birdhouse on the ground.
As we flew down the highway 
to the hospital where she was born, 
her suffering stole all meaning from my words, 
but on my face I could feel
the shadows of a vast flock 
passing in silent unison overhead.


Thomas Festa is Professor of English at SUNY New Paltz. He is the author of a study of John Milton, The End of Learning (2006), and two dozen scholarly articles, mainly on early modern English literature. Co-editor of four anthologies, he is currently at work on a study of the late W.S. Merwin’s poetry as well as his own original poems and translations.

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