To quantify the foolishness of the already long since failed
construction project, the famous German polymath
undertook to calculate the precise number of bricks
the Tower of Babel would have required had it ever been
finished. The figure he came up with ran an impressive
eighteen digits in length, climbing all the way up
to that rarely occupied hundred-quadrillionths place.
Looking at it now, between loads of laundry, the figure
calls to mind an American telephone number—area code first,
then the prefix, then the line number, followed in turn
by a trail of eight additional zeroes. I feel a little lost
through the hypnosis of those zeroes, but I still pick up
the phone and dial that number now. A recording says
the number I’ve dialed isn’t an actual telephone number
after all. Please try again. I do. Same result. I try dialing
that trail of zeroes instead. This time the recording says
that the call I’m making might itself be recorded. I hesitate a bit
at the thought of that, when all this crazy science, all
this poking into mysteries, panting for answers, always
harder, higher, my phone calls today and the recordings
during laundry, the laundry—it all comes crashing down.
I don’t have time to experiment. I’m hanging up the phone.
But wait, there’s more! On my rush back to the laundromat
I remembered I forgot a part. The polymath figured out, too,
that if the tower had reached its destination, it would have
taken over eight-hundred years to climb to the top.
What’s more, his calculations say the mass of all those bricks
would have outweighed, slightly, the earth’s own mass,
meaning the tower would have used up all the matter of
the planet it was built on, which is foolish enough, and then
a little more, which is ridiculous, unless the tower is secretly
just the earth itself, with the added weight of all the living on it.
Copyright © Timothy Donnelly
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.