Is 4 the same 4 for everybody?
–Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions
My mother draws her four with a right angle;
my father’s is pointed on top. My daughter’s four,
half the time, is backwards. Her sister signs,
tucking a thumb into her raised palm.
“I just adore four,” Big Bird sings, “the number
for me,” on an old record, old meaning
from a time when every kid knew how to drop
a needle into a spinning vinyl groove.
Four forces govern all things in the universe.
Carbon’s four valence electrons form the basis
for all life: our four limbs and four-chambered
hearts, a four-leafed clover’s lucky leaves.
My father shows me how to write the number
four in Malayalam—naalu, a round house
with a curve of smoke escaping. He says
no one uses these characters anymore.
Copyright © Sneha Madhavan-Reese. Originally published in Variations in Gravity (Textualis Press, 2015).
Sneha Madhavan-Reese is the author of the poetry collection Observing the Moon. She is the 2015 winner of Arc Poetry Magazine‘s Diana Brebner Prize and was a finalist for a 2018 National Magazine Award. Her writing has appeared in publications around the world, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2016. She lives with her family in Ottawa.