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The Earth Itself

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.

from Poetry Northwest WEBMore by Timothy Donnelly from the library

Copyright © Timothy Donnelly
Used with the permission of the author
on behalf of Poetry Northwest.

Published in Poems Timothy Donnelly

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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