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Poem: ‘Midlife Calculus’

Science in meter and verse

Illustration of a human in a glass, floating in space.

Masha Foya

Edited by Dava Sobel

Would that I could
measure the volume
of a glass half-full

but the h of my being
is an unknowable variable.

Nor can I work backwards
the equation for half-life

to account for
the value of one well-lived.

I can hope this crisis
is the midpoint

and that I don't outlive
the remembrance of my past
to be caught in a Möbius present.

I have learned enough, now,
to measure precisely how much it holds,
the irregular curves—
less the difference of the holes life left—
and yet, my heart is still full.

Britt Kaufmann is a poet and math tutor who lives in Burnsville, N.C. She took her first calculus course at age 47. Her first full-length collection of poetry, also called Midlife Calculus, will be published by Press 53 in the fall of 2024.
More by Britt Kaufmann
Scientific American Magazine Vol 330 Issue 2This article was originally published with the title “Midlife Calculus” in Scientific American Magazine Vol. 330 No. 2 (), p. 81