Back to Archive


Fermat's Last Theorem by Julia Mishkin


I dream of you lost in a daze, having gazed too long

at the sun—you believe your life has been overtaken


by number theory, and though I don’t understand probability

you say my failure is one of perspective: how can that


object blocking the light be a girl sitting in the window

braiding and unbraiding her hair, and what happens


when it spills over? (A) It obscures the ladder she uses

to climb up and down at night, or (B) She’s dreaming


of you dreaming underwater. The truth about Fermat

is that he left no proof of the conjecture for all n,


but did prove the special case n = 4 (illustrations follow):

the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse racing out of frame


for some unnamed destination; Bartok’s 4th Quartet

with its furious pizzicato turning the Hungarian forest


sinister; Murdoch’s The Bell, whose characters’ moral

confusion mirrors my own doubts about the 1940s, when


my grandfather had the nous to invest in hand-churned

ice-cream machines and Chanel. In Chinese numerology


the word four is a homonym of the word for death

(why some Chinese hospitals don’t have a 4th floor,


and why I check out of Suite #4 at the Grand Park Xian).

I visit the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses instead


(touted as the “Eighth and Best Wonder of the World”).

It seems only fitting to dream in 4-part harmony when


fleeing this world for a brighter one: Check all your razors

and your guns, do the Shim-Sham Shimmy till the rising sun.