By Morris Dean
Once again, we don't have a normal interview ready to publish. One interviewee has been very ill, two extremely busy, and the fourth—oh, my!—seems to be a world-class procrastinator.
But sometimes delays work out. How else could I possibly have thought of an arithmetical sestina? The set of six end-words are the numbers 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 9, and the key to the poem is the fact that each number can be calculated by arithmetical operations involving the other five. The challenge for me as writer was to apply those operations on the numbers in the order mandated by the conventions of a sestina. If you compare the pattern below with that of my three previous sestinas*, you'll see that the pattern is the same in all.
So, for today's sestina to serve as an interview stand-in, all I had to do was introduce a mathematically inclined interviewee (and who better to call on than someone French?)—voilà! [Our questions, French words and phrases, and our terminal enjoy of three lines are in italics.]
From end-numbers below, how deduce 2?_______________
Well, je pense I'll start by subtracting 6
From the vies-d'un-chat quantity 9,
Then to the resulting trois add 5,
And away from resulting huit take 3,
Then subtract the resulting cinq from 7. [resulting in 2]
Très bien! And how to calculate 7?
Start again with a subtraction: From 2—
To obtain a negative un—take 3.
And from that, for negative sept, take 6.
And to get to negative deux add 5.
Mais oui, to negative deux, then add 9! [resulting in 7]
Vous êtes bon! Do the same to produce 9?
Subtraction encore? D'accord, from 7—
To obtain a deux—take the number 5.
And reduce to zéro by taking 2.
Then but two simple additions: Add 6
To get six then—to get neuf—add 3!
Je pense you'll pass, but want to try with 3?
Ah, un peu reversed...From the number 9—
To obtain a trois, take the number 6.
Then jump up to dix by adding 7.
Then but two subtractions: From dix take 2,
And from the intermediary huit, take 5! [resulting in 3]
About finished! Can you thus figure 5?
Bien sûr! Division at last! Divide 3
By the next number in order here, 2,
Then multiply! combien coûte deux-tiers de 9?
Six! Take from that, for negative un, 7
And to finish figuring cinq, add 6!
And last, are you up to deriving 6?
Oh, I do believe so. Multiply 5
Times the next number in order, 7,
Then from the trente-cinq subtract (3
Times the next number in order here, 9).
That leaves huit, from which, for six, take 2!
Good! You've solved 6 out of twice 3.
But did you not think 5 harder than 9
And 7 a bit more devious than 2?
* "Persimmons in sestina," "Family deaths in churning sestina," and "Blog-related murder in sestina."
Copyright © 2013 by Morris Dean