By | 1 November 2017

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,
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
resist abstraction.

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.

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