Poem-a-Day - "​​2020" by Catherine Barnett

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August 29, 2022 

2020

Catherine Barnett

Up late scrolling
for distraction, love, hope,
I discovered skew dice.

In the promotional video
you see only a mathematician’s hands,
like the hands of god,

picking up the dice one at a time,
turning them over and over 
before returning them 

to the hard wood table,
where each lands with something 
between a whoosh and silence,

face up, face down,
some faces lying on their side,
as at other archaeological sites.

I bought a set of the patented dice,
each with its own logic and truth 
and aleatory uncertainty—

at home alone I rolled them
across my dining table
to pass the time, 

and time with its own logic
passed. Dear god.
I haven’t been touched in so long.

Copyright © 2022 by Catherine Barnett. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“I’ve always loved dice, never gambling. Dividing a Cadbury chocolate bar between his five young children, my father (raised in Las Vegas) tried to quiet our protests by saying, ‘Life’s not fair,’ which haunts me now as I recognize all the ways this brief claim is true. ‘Skew dice’ seem perfectly named for our moment; the mathematician Henry Segerman says they are ‘the geometrical expression of things being slightly off, something not being quite right.’ During those days when we saw fewer faces, and the faces we did see were so often masked, hands were especially communicative, often alluring.”
Catherine Barnett

Catherine Barnett is the author of Human Hours (Graywolf, 2018), among other titles. The recipient of awards and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Believer, the Academy of American Poets, and the Guggenheim Foundation, she was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and lives in New York City.

Human Hours
(Graywolf, 2018)

“I Looked on My Right Hand and Beheld” by Zoë Hitzig
read more
“Conversation in Isolation” by Harryette Mullen
read more

Thanks to Donika Kelly, author of The Renunciations (Graywolf Press, 2021), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Kelly’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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