In My Prime – A Poem by Rowe Williams

One, that most singular of numbers,
is not prime,
by definition. Isn't it perfect,
that one is the only number
with just one factor,
one and itself being the same?

Two is the first even number,
and by virtue of that primacy
is prime, as no other even is.
Factors, one and itself, now
two different numbers.
Two, on its own, disqualifying half
of all integers from that prime
moniker, so greedy it would be
the only prime, if it could.

Godhead, Trinity, Three-In-One.
Father, Spirit, Son.
Three, the sacred, the holy
of holies. Indivisible,
save by three and one.
Has there ever been another prime
so divine?

Five is composed:
in writing, of two straight lines and a curve;
in mathematics, of two factors, one and itself;
in me, of two places, the home where 
I was born, and the home where
I've lived since leaving it.

Spelling bees began in first grade
in my elementary school, and with it
paradoxically simultaneous love-hate
for words and their strangeness.
"Your word is 'seven'."
Seven. Factors one and itself.
Years of my life lived.
"Seven. S-E-V-E-N, seven."
Victory at last.

Two short, parallel lines
are how I handwrite eleven
(numerically, at least).
This, too, follows that definitional pattern:
factors one and itself.
I believe it was not until my eleventh summer
that at summer camp, that crucible, I learned
the word vagina. Unknowing and unwilling
to admit it, that summer I bloomed late,
in one regard,
as my father explained men, women, and sex to me
in what is here called, so innocently,
"The Birds and The Bees,"
or more simply and ominously,
"The Talk."

One and itself.
I begin to be interested in what was explained to me
prepubescently, as I now enter
full pubescence. But here, at least, thirteen
is considered an unlucky number,
and its residual misfortune
has followed my romantic escapades,
or rather, lack thereof.

Now I am in high school.
I have realized my only true talent
is school. I revel in this talent,
struggling to ignore that it is not enough.
Struggling to ignore that I
am one and myself.

An adult number
for one who is still a child.
I attend the college that was my "safety school",
grades and nothing else insufficient
for somewhere more prestigious.
Things are fine.
I have my first taste of the thought
that will one day kill me:
"You should kill yourself."
Nineteen. One and itself.

The taste has become a feast
I have already tried to eat once,
to achieve only the tears of loved ones.
I have transferred schools
to a less prestigious university,
so I can be a child at home again.
My life crawls on.
Twenty-three is a prime number,
factors: one and itself.

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