sand and a tracery of lines
in wet earth
a gleam of pyrite
a cluster of stars over her ear

she pulls a sheer
  shawl over those lights
and licks her fingers

the tide pushes a quadratic
equation up the beach
coding a presence
shells    weed    white

foam glimmers
another equation (this
hidden bronze and copper ::
bangles cipher
against dusk, an
allegory of nightmare
if only she could shape the codes
herself, a hieroglyph

sand and a cluster of star-
like bodies
her body
wires and rods


her bones
hold together light
glints over the lost equation


Marthe Reed
from her book Tender Box: A Wunderkammer
Lavender Ink, 2007
Used by permission of the poet.


For an Algebra Class

Lesson Plan for Marthe Reed’s “hieroglyph”
by Cassie Seiple

Read the poem a loud to students.

Discuss the appearance of equations in the poem.

Ask students to imagine that their textbook is written in a code that is foreign to them.

Have them turn to a random page or to a concept they liked or found difficult.

Then, invite students to reinvent that mathematical concept by personifying it or describing it through concrete objects and actions (like Reed’s lines “shells weed white” and “hidden bronze and copper :: / bangles cipher / against dusk, an / allegory of nightmare).

For an English Class

Lesson Plan for Marthe Reed’s “hieroglyph”
by Cassie Sieple

Read the poem twice aloud to students.

Have them note the descriptions Ms. Reed uses in the poem.

What comparisons is she making between the lines and the sand and language?

Invite them to free write in response to this prompt:

Imagine you are sitting on a beach watching, listening, and feeling. Then, imagine that objects from your life begin to wash ashore. What would they be? What is important about them? What do they say about you? Optional: Take pieces from your free write and compose a poem.

Lesson Plan for Marthe Reed’s “hieroglyph”
by Nancy Jaynes

Middle School English Class

This poem evokes a strong visual image, but without the necessary vocabulary, even my smarty-pants kids might miss most of it. Nonetheless, I believe the equally strong sound sense of the piece will capture the students’ attention.

I would focus first on the allure of the poet’s voice that creates a mood. I’d dim the lights and have my lamps on in the room. I’d read the poem aloud first.

After some brief discussion, we’d explore the vocabulary used in the poem, and then read it again. I would focus not merely on words that are difficult for middle school students, such as “allegory,” “quadratic equation,” and “cipher,” but also on words such as “pyrite,” “coding,” “hidden,” “glints,” and “bangles,” that seem to be chosen for effect.

After the discussion on words, I’d ask, “What’s the setting of this poem? Where is she?”

I would mention the word “metaphor,” if students don’t, and invite students to share the metaphors used in the poem.

I am not a math/science person, but I would perhaps bring up the idea that the Quadratic Equation is not simply taught in school, but also used in theoretical biology and medical science, and I’d ask my students to imagine what Marthe Reed might be suggesting by using the mathematical terminology, and words like “codes,” especially in relationship to the physical images of things being washed up on a beach.

Finally, I would do a “on the beach at night” guided meditation as a lead-in to student writing.

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