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Slide Rule - Kathryn Temple

Show me how it works, I was intruding, but I stood

my ground, shoulder to shoulder with my father.

Slide in hand, logarithms fell beneath his fingers,

merging and diverging scales revealed earth’s curves.

He reduced a square root to its perfect primes.

Each line aligned precisely at his touch.

Math is like music, he said, a universal language,

He showed me scales, the C, the D. I sounded out

the letters UNIVERSAL stamped into its bamboo.

What value had I in this world of moving numbers,

multiplying exponentially into a streaming future?

My father gone, I hold the case, the thick leather,

rough and cracked with age, the case holding the rule.

An address we’ve all forgotten engraved inside.

It smells of hide.

A clasp with a snap.

Snap, it opens, snap, I close it.

I lay it down. Put out the light.

Newton used a slide rule once, later John Glenn’s NASA,

then my father, these men with their rules, playing numbers

like music on universal scales, notes spinning into space.

Now they gather dust. You can buy one on the internet for a song.


Kathryn Temple teaches at Georgetown University and lives on the Chesapeake in a small town south of Annapolis with the West River Man and a flotilla of assorted kayaks and other small boats. The author of two academic books and some academic essays, she has also published in Fauxmoir, Agape Review, and Streetlight. You can find some of her personal essays and thoughts about the writing process here:

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