All right angles are equal

for Robert Parris Moses (1935-2021)

Bob Moses the math teacher knew that to solve for X
we must ask, who was Malcolm?

Moses the activist, down in delta shacks
saw the face of a King papering holes in walls
just to keep out the chill and Roll, Jordan, Roll

Up in Boston, he taught his students
how both sides of the equation must be balanced

Algebra is an egalitarian language.

What kind of person living in our republic
organizing Neshoba sharecroppers
while Senators in Gucci loafers
sporting bags by Lululemon
vote to sink fair wage legislation
push vote suppression and fight communism

(Even those who took a knee when it seemed politically savvy)

How does that kind of person remain self-contained
as U.S. citizens of color from Amite and Sunflower
counties scrounge to pay poll taxes
to a barely literate justice of the peace who says not so fast

Boy, give me the meaning of
e pluribus unum

Those words, is they Greek? Latin? Or some northern Marxist teaching?

Bob Moses was the math prof I never had
as I struggled to master the language of abstraction
it always was Greek to me

I imagine him saying, Jeremy
I can give you certain formulas
Euclid called them axioms
such as, “all right angles are equal
to one another” but these won’t make sense
unless we leave the classroom

Because it’s all about the actual world
like some man asking you for spare change
or being the only white face in a public space

This language, it’s a lens
for looking into the melting pot
seeing how it breathes
smelling its flavor, grasping its nature
feeling its heat without getting scalded

You’ve got a good chance to achieve
that end because you’re white, my friend

You should survive the experience
accrue a little wisdom perhaps
learning that
while all right angles may be equal
equality in America is an angle too.

Jeremy Nathan Marks lives in London, Ontario. New work is appearing this fall in So It Goes, The Journal of Expressive Writing, Unlikely Stories, Chiron Review, Boog City, Bewildering Stories, and Ginosko Review. Read other articles by Jeremy Nathan.