Wooden beads sliding on wires
held in a bamboo frame.

When someone dies, we slide
them off to the other side.

A binary abacus is used to explain
how computers manipulate numbers.

My daughter would understand,
she’d say it’s switches, either on or off.

Before beads on wires, they were simply
stones moved along grooves in the sand,

Hence the name, from the Greek,
abakos, a board covered with dust,

Perhaps from the Hebrew ʾābāq (אבק),
for dust, in the post-Biblical sense

Meaning sand used as a writing surface,
but it makes me think, again, of dust to dust.

Kids these days don’t even know
what an abacus is, the ways we subtract,

All the rough calculations of on and off.

abaciCalculating-Table by Gregor Reisch: Margarita Philosophica, 1503.


Published by

Ray Sharp

Father, poet, triathlete, local public health planner

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