Oscar Keip’s Mathematical Workshop
When my thumbs were strong, I worked
them to the socket, hollowing
clay cradles for thought.
I turned curves sharper
than a rat’s spine, joined seams
fast as a practice kiss in the glass.
Now they call me the ghost.
Each morning, I cough up plugs
of shining plaster. White dust
grains my skin, crusts eyelashes, sets
in little half-moon
parings beneath my nails.
Ten years ago, Keip hooked me
from the field, landed me gasping
on his bench. I learnt to gulp
down chalk, swallow puzzles. Winding
through his grid, I was proud as an eel
doubled into its own knot.
Back then we were in such demand,
our workshop rivalled Brill and Schilling’s.
A prospectus furnished, if desired,
gratis, to tease pennies
from tight fingers and pinched
university purses. Work is scarcer now,
but the students still bring
their designs. Keip decides.
Lotte is the best but the others hate her
because she is a girl. Her strong
thighs against the bench
Once I saw Pieter cry. He looked
right through me, crushed
her favourite piece beneath his boot,
choked on the rising dust.
The drains are blocked again.
I try to tell them, but
my throat is parched. Plaster
sets in a solid lump. Stops the flow
or slows it to a trickle, sucks
the pith from nerve and bone. My spine
fades. Light webs my fingers,
splits in the prism of translucent ribs.
No-one hears me whisper how
once, when I pushed my hand
into clay, a white palm touched it,
stole my lifeline. Gave me
a thumb print in return
folded into infinity.
- 97: PROPAGANDASUBMIT NOW with M Breeze and S Groth 96: NO THEME IXwith M Gill & J Thayil 95: EARTHwith M Takolander 94: BAYTwith Z Hashem Beck 93: PEACHwith L Van, G Mouratidis, L Toong 92: NO THEME VIIIwith C Gaskin 91: MONSTERwith N Curnow 90: AFRO AUSTRALIANwith S Umar 89: DOMESTICwith N Harkin 88: TRANSQUEERwith S Barnes and Q Eades 87: DIFFICULTwith O Schwartz & H Isemonger 86: NO THEME VIIwith L Gorton 85: PHILIPPINESwith Mookie L and S Lua 84: SUBURBIAwith L Brown and N O'Reilly 83: MATHEMATICSwith F Hile 82: LANDwith J Stuart and J Gibian 81: NEW CARIBBEANwith V Lucien 80: NO THEME VIwith J Beveridge 57.1: EKPHRASTICwith C Atherton and P Hetherington 57: CONFESSIONwith K Glastonbury 56: EXPLODE with D Disney 55.1: DALIT / INDIGENOUSwith M Chakraborty and K MacCarter 55: FUTURE MACHINES with Bella Li 54: NO THEME V with F Wright and O Sakr 53.0: THE END with P Brown 52.0: TOIL with C Jenkins 51.1: UMAMI with L Davies and Lifted Brow 51.0: TRANSTASMAN with B Cassidy 50.0: NO THEME IV with J Tranter 49.1: A BRITISH / IRISH with M Hall and S Seita 49.0: OBSOLETE with T Ryan 48.1: CANADA with K MacCarter and S Rhodes 48.0: CONSTRAINT with C Wakeling 47.0: COLLABORATION with L Armand and H Lambert 46.1: MELBOURNE with M Farrell 46.0: NO THEME III with F Plunkett 45.0: SILENCE with J Owen 44.0: GONDWANALAND with D Motion 43.1: PUMPKIN with K MacCarter 43.0: MASQUE with A Vickery 42.0: NO THEME II with G Ryan 41.1: RATBAGGERY with D Hose 41.0: TRANSPACIFIC with J Rowe and M Nardone 40.1: INDONESIA with K MacCarter 40.0: INTERLOCUTOR with L Hart 39.1: GIBBERBIRD with S Gory 39.0: JACKPOT! with S Wagan Watson 38.0: SYDNEY with A Lorange 37.1: NEBRASKA with S Whalen 37.0: NO THEME! with A Wearne 36.0: ELECTRONICA with J Jones