# Amy Quan Barry's "If dy/dx=(〖4x〗^3+ x^2-12)/√(2x^2-9), Then"

Math and poetry aren’t commonly found together in the wild. Though I’m sure some mathematicians wax poetic about perfect proofs. And formal poets certainly count syllables. But how many poems do you know that include mathematical equations? And differential equations at that? What, if anything, do math and poetry have in common? Can they intersect meaningfully?

Well, the answer to that is yes, if you read Amy Quan Barry. Barry is the author of four books of poetry and one novel, and she teaches creative writing at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She calls herself “the kind of person who’s really interested in making connections,” and this, among other things, is what her work does—makes striking connections between disparate subjects. This—not incidentally--is just what good metaphor does, too: brings together two unlike things in a way that creates a flash of insight, a new neuronal pathway in our brains.

This poem I’m about to read has a mathematical formula in the title, which makes it a little cumbersome to read out loud--not to mention to try to reproduce here in this blog! So, bear with my representation here of the equation. Here’s “If 'dee-why dee-ex = 4 ex cubed plus ex squared minus twelve all over the square root of two ex squared minus nine,' Then,” by Amy Quan Barry.

If dy/dx = (〖4x〗^3+ x^2-12)/√(2x^2-9), Then

you are standing at the ocean,

in the moon’s empirical light

each mercurial wave

like a parabola shifting on its axis,

the sea’s dunes differentiated & graphed

If this, then that.The poet

laughs. She wants to lie

in her own equation, the point slope

like a woman whisperingstay me

with flagons.What is it to know the absolute value

of negative grace, to calculate

how the heart becomes the empty set

unintersectable, the first & the last?

But enough.

You are standing on the shore,

the parameters like wooden stakes.

Letxbe the moon like a notary.

Letybe all things left unsaid.

Let the constant be the gold earth

waiting to envelop what remains,

the sieves of the lungs like two cones.

You can find Amy Quan Barry’s poem, “If dy/dx = (〖4x〗^3+ x^2-12)/√(2x^2-9), Then” in the May 29, 2000, edition of *The New Yorker*.