Published on Academy of American Poets (

Philip Larkin's Koan

In the perfect universe of math it’s said
the world’s eternal aberration.
In fact, we should be less than dead,

math itself disrupted for matter ever to be read
as real. A thought so hard to fathom that The Nation
in its article on math has said

we lack the right imagination: the human head
will not subtract itself from the equation,
zero out the eager ego to be less than dead.

Did the numbers hunger for mistake, for fun upend
themselves to recalculate our infinite extinction?
And was existence meant for all, since it could be said

without our numbers others might have thrived:
the black rhinoceros, shortnose sturgeon—?
Articles of horn and scale both less and more than dead,

figurative dreams that now haunt us in our beds.
Memory’s another flaw in our equation. Was it The Nation?
I forget. Regardless, I know that someone said
in a perfect universe, we’d all be dead.


From Imaginary Vessels. Copyright © 2016 by Paisley Rekdal. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,


Paisley Rekdal

Paisley Rekdal is the author of six volumes of poetry, most recently Nightingale (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). An inaugural Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, Rekdal is the Guest Editor for Poem-a-Day in December 2019. She is the Poet Laureate of Utah and lives in Salt Lake City.

Date Published: 2016-09-28

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