Pick-a-Poem: “Set Theory”


Welcome, blog readers, to another Pick-a-Poem post, this time presented in our sleek new layout. I hope that your week has been going well so far. It’s time for your weekly poem, so I hope you’re ready to read some verse. Each week, we feature a poem from Poetry Daily, which is a great site that actually features a poem every day. Be sure to check them out. This week we’re featuring Set Theory by Bonnie Jo Campbell.

According to her biography, Bonnie Jo Campbell is an author whose works include a poetry collection entitled Love Letters to Sons of Bitches (2009), a novel entitled Once Upon a River (Norton, 2011), and a short story collection, Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, which was released last year. She teaches in the Low-Residency Program at Pacific University.

Set Theory by Bonnie Jo Campbell

       “Nothing is better than eternal happiness; a ham sandwich is
better than nothing; therefore, a ham sandwich is better than
eternal happiness”

There is only one empty set, and it exists around the world,
the set of loyal lovers and living unicorns, honest politicians

and the contents of the intersection of any two non-intersecting
circles. Sets are aggregates of things, to be divided and united.

You can fill your sets with cardinal numbers or with cardinals,
and those cardinals might have red feathers or army green

feathers or might be cardinals in the Vatican voting for a pope.
Set theory lets you put them together—math does what the Catholic

church cannot. The empty set is the set of lady cardinals knitting
socks in Rome, discussing theology and wielding power

lightly, pausing to commend their cleaning ladies, to tousle
the heads of altar boys. The empty set is not the same as nothing.

The universal set is not the same as everything
and arrives with paradoxes of its own. John Venn, a humble

man, never called them Venn Diagrams, but used Euclidian Circles
to show logical relations all day, until climbing in bed

with his wife, whom he feared would devour him in an act
of intersection and union. Our aggregates of things can weigh

us down, Lord knows, and what’s true of those you love
beyond measure also will be true
of the elements of the empty set.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s featured poem! For more posts like this, click here.

— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan



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