If fifteen young ladies in a school
walk three abreast for seven days
in succession, how would you
arrange them each day so that none
would walk twice abreast?
This problem of combinatorics
was first proposed by Thomas Kirkman
in 1850, in his query number VI
in Ladies and Gentleman’s Diary.
If you want to know the answer
you should ask the middle aged man
in the front of room playing Bach
on the baroque flute. He solved it
120 years later, a Caltech undergrad
to great career-making acclaim.
Ask him, too, if he can he come up
with an equation to graph the movements
of the Philadelphia Hallahan Catholic
girls on their last day of school
lined-up in the halls three abreast, who
when the bell rings its dismissal
break free and surge into the streets,
bolting across the Parkway to swarm
The Love Fountain downtown.
They leap over the mid-day smokers,
noshers and sun-soaking secretaries
into the warm water, screeching.
They splash and shove, topple and dunk
each other, until their loosened hair
and shabby uniforms are thoroughly soaked.
And then, as they emerge onto the hot
concrete plaza, leave perfect dark droplets
in glomerations of 16th notes.
Leonard Kress has published in Missouri Review, Massachusetts Review, Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, etc. Recent collections are The Orpheus Complex and Walk Like Bo Diddley. Living in the Candy Store and Other Poems, and Craniotomy as well as his new verse translation of the Polish Romantic epic, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz. He lived in Philadelphia for the first 40 years of life.