Saturday, September 4, 2010

Parabola Palabra

The real Elise, the real Suzanne and the real Jeni, c1988,
conquistadoras of the dreaded Maths exam.
I loved maths at school. Just couldn't get the right answers. How about you? When I was in year 8, my school had a Pi-athon for which you raised money based on the number of decimal places to which you could recite this infinite equation. There were also prizes for those who could chant this mathematical mantra the furthest. Believe it or not, at 100 decimal places, my efforts barely scratched the surface of the itch that is memorising infinity. Some kid (no doubt a dork, possibly even dorkier than me) reached into the several hundreds and, as a result of their efforts, also no doubt failed to get a date for the remainder of high school, such was the magnitude of their mathematical dedication.

I didn't either. Get a date after memorising pi. Might be an interesting conversation starter but begins to feel a little repetitive, a tad tedious after a while.

So, when pi failed me as the language of love, what I did do, however, was head in the LOTE direction. That's Languages Other Than English. And that's what this, almost entirely fictional, poem centres on. Suzanne is not fictional. We studied together the night before our year 12 maths exam. I think it was the only time we ever studied for maths. And she doesn't even remember it, so it's obviously too distressing a memory for her contemplation.

Now, for those of you desiring enlightement, a little Babelfish helped me out with the following translations for your reading pleasure:

1. Je voudrais les Pommes frites – I would like fries. (And, much to my chagrin, I can buy them at the golden arches on the Champs Elysees.)
2. Der Tiergarten – This is the largest garden in the centre of Berlin and my account of it in the poem is true.
3. Ich bin ein Berliner – infamously spoken by JFK in June 1963 to his Berlin audience as a gesture of solidarity, ‘I am a Berliner’ can also be translated as ‘I am a jam doughnut'.
4. Ichi ni – one, two in Japanese.
5. Chopsticks - knifu forku in Japanese.
6. Exploradora – Dora the Explorer. What a cutie. Loving the fact it's also the Spanish word for explorer
7. corazon – heart.   No Spanish song is complete, no tune lyrically satiated without this linguistic staple.
8. mochila – backpack en Español.

and finally

9. Pi – 22/7 or


…with decimal places to infinity.

This poem is dedicated to you (because you're about to read it), to Suzanne, to my friend Jen whose mathematical prowess was rather more eloquent, my Maths teacher Neil who organised the most ripper school ski trips, our inspirational, organza draped English teacher, Lorrane, and the following good folk of Facebook who showed off about how good they are at French: Sarah, George, Sylvia, Cate and Phil.

By the way, I'm still willing to memorise pi it to a million places if it guarantees a lay.

Parabola Palabra

Was sitting with Suzanne,
the dawn of our exam,
with little of a plan,
except the plan to cram.

The apple pie now eaten,
eight pieces fully beaten,
with icrecream too, to sweeten,
the morning we were greetin’.

We sighed, exhausted, stuffed
and thought we’d done enough
to call the marker’s bluff,
avoid producing guff

and in delirium,
I thought back with a grin
to all I had packed in
to make the year a win.

Six subjects I had chosen.
My mum had stood quite frozen
and once done recomposing
had challenged my proposin’

that I would choose my strengths,
go to whatever lengths
to climb up in the ranks,
avoiding teachers’ spanks.

So languages it was,
a LOTE star, just because
if I e’er did leave Oz,
I’d order ‘vichyssoise

in France and I would say,
‘Monsier, errr…Je voudrais
les Pomme frites,’ at Maccas, hey,
on the Champs Elysees.

In Deustchland, what a winner,
nude folk in Berlin’s inner,
der Tiergarten, me - grinner
shouting, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’

And Japanese, yippee!
I’d have an ‘ichi ni’
The Pilbara Poet, intrepid and sweaty above Bariloche,
Argentinean Andes
and use chopsticks for tea,
drink sake ‘til I pee.

Then, travelling right on
I’d fill mi corazon
con Español, the one,
a language wicked fun.

(But truly, to my core, ah…
I love Exploradora
so jaunting with my ‘mochila’,
I’d be a…conquistadora?)

And English, well, compulsory.
Not that it made me ulcery -
dressed in organza glory
our teacher told great stories.

Thus, five subjects of six,
I did the sixth for kicks,
just threw it in the mix,
my knowledge, well, was nix.

So here we sat together
hoping for fairer weather,
my heart unlike a feather,
our maths skills…well…whatever.

‘Suzanne,’ I pinned her eye,
‘Oh why oh why oh why
did you pick maths, like I?’
She said, ‘’cause I like pi.’

'You mean,' I said to her,
like, apple pie?' This blur
at dawn now caused a stir
and she said, ‘Well, um, err…

‘NO. I mean…3.14159
I love pi, it is sublime,
I love singing it in time.’

Oh boy, she had gone nuts.
No ifs, no maybes, buts
and sleepless now, my guts
were churning, filled with ruts

of inverse differentials
and all my maths potential
which might well be essential
when I picked up my pencil.

‘Elise?’ Suzanne asked back
'What’s with you and Maths?
Was not your subject track
for languages? Your knack?’

Indeed, I faced her query,
my eyes now fully bleary,
my body spent and weary,
my armpits even teary.

‘The thing, Suzanne, you see,
this Maths is language glee,
I love it like boats the sea,
but it’s all quite…Greek…to me.

We eyed the apple pie
then gazed towards the sky
until was time to fly
to our exam quite nigh

and we passed with fine aplomb,
parabolas now done,
whence I flew towards the sun…
Santorini…that’s the one.

                                                                                           Santorini Windmill © Rob Whitehead 2010

©Elise Batchelor August 2010


  1. G'day! Did you see this? Judging from the last sentence, he doesn't need to get laid :)

  2. I have no doubt! "I was alone in the room at the moment ... I know this is nothing but self satisfaction,"...

    He definitely had his own slice of the pi, hey!


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