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The Mathematics of Parking

parallel parking old car

by Mary K. O’Melveny

I am parking the car.
I am quite excellent at this.
People comment often
on my ability to slide in,
a quick wheel turn or two,
it’s done. I walk away.

My Father taught me to park.
A lesson in pure geometry.
Mathematics determined
most of his daily moves.
Like making all the beds
with precise hospital corners.

The beauty of calculus,
or so he would say,
was in having the right answers.
Mistakes were never
acceptable. Careful
proofs produced satisfaction.

Perhaps his great anger
grew from our quite human limitations.
Pen to paper, word to ear
not always a numeric certainty.
Instead, we struggled to relate.
Formulas elusive, answers clouded.

Home from the Great War
(how innocent everyone was back then),
he had already lost interest
in succession. Wanted out.
But instead he got three kids.
Six heart attacks. Algorithmic bad luck.

We never liked each other much.
My Mother cried too often.
I computed the statistical relationship
between his presence or absence
and the sadness that filled our rooms.
It was significant.

I remember driving with her
over dark mountain roads
to the VA Hospital ER.
Siblings boarded with neighbors.
I could never tell if the substance
filling up the car was fear or relief.

But somehow he beat the odds.
Again. Like a savvy gambler
shaving with a plastic razor
in the casino bathroom,
smiling into the mirror, red–rimmed
eyes smarting from morning light.

Later on, the numbers did run out.
Someone retrieved me from
my college English class
(so much more warm and fluid
than arithmetic computations),
to deliver the somber news.

I am older now than he was then.
I have lists of questions
I never asked him. Not to mention
answers I think might be correct.
But who can ever know?
Our universes did not compute.

So I wonder what we might have said
to each other now, taking careful
measure like long-dead stars
realigning briefly to see if logic mattered.
I know I would surely say,
Thanks for the parking lessons.

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