Scabbarded in red leather, it was a gift
from the bachelor uncle who tutored
me in math, wood smooth, glossy
blonde with worn spots from thumb
and forefinger: as antique
to me as his coins pressed with the profile
of Edward III, or his Bavarian stamps
interred behind glass.
As antique as he, himself, in dark
orthopedic shoes and a thin,
black necktie halfway down his gut
as he sat on his porch swing
with a pellet gun taking pops
at neighborhood dogs who crapped
on his lawn, reading Seneca
and Zane Gray between shots.
I never got far in algebra or geometry,
despite long afternoons with the two
of us bent over his kitchen table, September
sun falling in through the transom,
traffic slurring outside, his whole house
a battleship out to sea and at war
with rushing time.
And I never learned to use the slide rule,
but when he died, I took it from the scabbard,
matched my fingers to places worn by his own
young hands, and studied the numbers
as they glided past like passengers
lined neatly in the windows
of a departing train.