Kelly Krumrie’s figuring

Two Problems in Three Parts

Figuring is a monthly column that puzzles over (to figure) and gives shape to (a figure) writing, art, and environments that integrate or concern mathematics and the sciences. This month’s column features an except from “Two Problems in Three Parts” from guest writer, Miranda Mellis. 

Kelly Krumrie’s figuring

Excerpt from Miranda Mellis’ work in progress, “Two Problems in Three Parts”

Figuring is a monthly column that puzzles over (to figure) and gives shape to (a figure) writing, art, and environments that integrate or concern mathematics and the sciences. 

A note from Kelly Krumrie:

Through whatever cosmic flurry of connections this past year has thrown at me, in November I ended up in a workshop facilitated by Miranda Mellis titled “Restor(y)ation: Orca Poesis” through the nonprofit organization Creature Conserve. After the workshop, we began a conversation about science and the arts, eliciting creative responses from facts, conservation and information, ecology and imagination, and so on, much of which circles around and through the concerns of this column. Over a decade ago, I worked with Miranda in my MFA program, and I’ve continued to be an admirer of her writing. As these things were coming together so wonderfully, I invited her to contribute something to this space. 

What follows is an excerpt from her work in progress titled Two Problems in Three Parts. It truly enacts a figuring—wondering and reasoning taking shape in a mind in an environment and on the page.


Inhaling the scent of rain pounding
I fall asleep on the couch
With the
Window open
And I sleep many hours, as is
My wont these days
Regardless day or night

I dreamed
The house was sliding
A ravine
And woke in a torpor to
Find myself sliding off
The couch and
The sky darkened by downpour

I went
Outside to
Observe the wide
Rivulets that
Puncture the ground

Numberless tiny
Waterfalls sweeping
The soil downhill
Particle by particle

The land is deluged
Becoming a slippery clay
There’s no denying
The house is sliding

It presents itself eternally

Full for me with memory

But now I see its future, and mine
Falling over the edge

And as every object will be thrown
From its customary place
Tools, appliances, clothes
Chairs, dishes, art
Books, tables, windows
Crashing, breaking, flying
Decontextualized and strewn
Scattered, trashed, undone
Will these objects not find
Their tentative disbelief
And mystifying way
Of floating noncommittally
One inch in the air
Was always justified?

Is there anything that is

Perhaps this
Wet hand that is digging away
Under the house
Has designs more important than mine

As I have never known

Where things should be anyway

And have always sensed a vast

Disorder very


When the land is logged and stripped
Mono-cropped, extracted
Root systems that held
The soil in place
Once embraced in a strong weave
Is deconstructed
The soil grows flighty, rootless, and
It runs away

Root systems take weight
Give all its meaning to
The word, the concept, of weight, for
Earth is
Gravity itself
Is grave
So why hate death?
Or growing down

Mountains are a risen weight
Seas are bowls of weight-bearing
Tsunamis break
New lines
Between the land and sea
Mountains break open and the land
Slides down
A mountain buries itself
A house is
A habitable hill

We contemporaries
Inherit the aesthetics of the fragment
Everyone born after the atom bomb
After Oppenheimer et al, and
After the 20th century’s dying
Empires fantasied into being, an imaginary, a
Cut-up of a world of lines in the sand
Lines through lands as if history began
With them

Around here, it’s very
Clear cut
The mountains are sliding
Because of logging, because of
The 19th century settler colonial
Cult of the clear-cut

For those of us who came after, we begin at the end
War and its art forms are
Our tradition, the wars move around
Sometimes distant sometimes
Near, sometimes right here

We inherit permanent
War, war-as-series, as chapter book, as season, world war I,
World war II . . . if it is a series then
War is our horizon

Mayakovsky wrote that

A change of plane from that in which an action or fact is situated, a certain distance, is indispensable . . . you have to stand back, at a distance equal to three times the size of the object. If you don’t do that, you simply won’t see the thing you’re depicting. The bigger the thing or the event, the further you have to get away from it.

My mother would recommend being
Objective about the house
Sliding into the ravine, because
Its objective she would say you can solve it
I agree, but not objectively

Sometimes sitting at the
Bottom of the ravine which threatens to
Change the plane of my house I feel a
Change of plane stealing over
My spirit, a careless happiness
And I don’t mind what happens, a silent
Laughs through me

The erosion of the ravine mirrors the
Slow decay of my own sensibilities and
A cedar branch leans over me
Like a concerned friend

We wish our disasters were small
On the scale of a broken dish, say
But we live on a planet
Where continents break and drift

After a storm a big leaf maple
Three enormous
Moss covered limbs crashed
Down bringing more light to the hill
The human
Idea of repair doesn’t

For trees death is not a
Conclusion but a coming and a

Though less flamboyant than a living tree
With its chatty little
Leaves, eager for light
The dead tree has more
Living tissue in it

The snag becomes the favored
Armature of eagles
Imperceptible myriads feast on
Dead trees
Proliferating so much so that
Seemingly dead trees are ever more densely packed
With living cells

Sacrificial tree!
Ancient cultures felt that
Sacrificing kings
Turned the seasons

There was prescience in the idea
That our future depends upon
The death of rulers

We are in their company
The ancients
We are their people
Being mortal
We’re in the company of dogs, bats and butterflies
Who never did dwell in an “animal kingdom”
Who are also buried in green capes of moss and lichen
Folded into a flowering underworld
Of bones, memories, species, debris
Becoming insects, arrowheads, rocks, fossils

One pocket of soil has
Millions of organisms
Where we do not see them there
Are the animal, and the animalcule, repairing
Invisibly in opaque
Boiling vents of the

The cow can’t digest
Grass or the
Termite lignin
Without their bacterial
Communities to
Do it for them, nothing living is
Not symbiotic, emergent
Of this mutual
Reciprocity it must be said
There is no higher order pragmatism.

Wave after wave of symbionts
Fold after fold, plying each other
Over millennia

Retrospectively, from afar our plots look planned, formal, static
Inevitable, explicatable
To explicate, from ply

Close up are so many
Uncertain actions
Indecisive horizons, chaotic with upturned

There is a cemetery at the bottom of the ravine
No one has been buried there for a generation
It is just part of the un-sanctimonious land, now
The microbial earth

I walk up and down
Traverse the ravine to see
If it can tell me how to
Prevent the house from sliding right off
Its foundation
Onto the cemetery which is to be
Avoided for
Obvious reasons
As well as one reason which
Isn’t obvious, most
Reasons aren’t
Obvious, the obvious is rarely truly
Obvious, even the
Uncanny equations that
Show our
Universe has the
Properties of a hologram are
Spoken of in the
Non-mood of
Obviousness but
The closer you look
Nothing is
Take the sea in our bodies our
Scapula like
The wings of seabirds our
Backs fluid and bony just like a
Rocky creek along which time has
Braided a spine
That things are not
Obvious is obvious even the
Obvious reason that one should prevent a house sliding into a
Ravine isn’t, why shouldn’t it?
Slide into a ravine
The earth after all
Exists in an abyss
Is that abyss
Our enemy, is that earth?

The non-obvious reason is
The cemetery
And if it is obvious to say
A house shouldn’t slide off its
Foundations into a
Ravine it’s even more
Obvious to say a house
Shouldn’t fall onto a
Cemetery, as
Convenient as that might be
For me should I
Happen to be
In the house at that moment
Getting me right to the point

We hang a curtain on
This side of
That abyss, we wrap ourselves in love which
Arises as a balm for dying

Photographs once sealed onto headstones
Now effaced, ambiguously swirling

To be forgotten, to be unknown is
To be as abstract
As a whorl of grain

One limb of the
Fallen maple took
Down a statue of Mother Mary as it fell
The dismembered tree and the
Cracked Mother lie
Side by side two
Crumbling hollowing cylinders

Around them labor ants by their hundreds
Yet each one discrete, itself working
Pulling sticks and leaves, pine needles, sometimes the torn
Remains of other insects to a teeming hill, a
Rustling, clicking mound, sometimes pausing to
Share information or food, antennae entangled
A ceaseless activity
A coming and going

I come and go too
Along the path that flows back and forth
Along the ravine, up to the faltering ridge,
Down to the abandoned cemetery, and back
Up again, to the house once
Dark blue, now faded grey
With rotted trim, a mossy
Roof and a large picture
Window with a
Taped up crack


Were you to look into the window with a taped up crack, initially a single crack which has branched over the years into three cracks, you would see me at my kitchen table reading, looking at the trees, trying to solve my problems.

I sit here at the table and take their measure, these problems, probe them, try to see where they came from, or are coming from and where they went, or are going to. I need to define them in their particularity – such as the problem of my falling house – as well as, generally, what do I mean by problem qua problem – a word with Latin and Greek origins, from problēma, “headland, promontory,” “thing put forward,” from pro “forward” + ballein “to throw.” So it turns out I mean the same thing by problem in general and my problem, at least my first problem, because they are the same thing, if a problem is a thing thrown. And it may be the same thing – problem generally, problem qua problem – as my second problem as well, which can also be fairly described as originally a thing thrown, insofar as it begins with a projection, a literal projection, the literal projection of a film, upon a wall. That is, both my problems have the qualities of a projectile. 

A problem then, is always intimately temporal. No problem is not a problem of time and therefore of purpose. If one’s purpose is one’s problem, one’s problem is certainly one’s purpose, like it or not. Certainly my problems give me purpose, the question is whether I can fulfill this purpose by solving my problems. Without these problems, what would my purpose be? Do I fail to solve these problems, because without them, I would have no purpose? Or do I fail to solve these problems, because I can’t face the fact that even if I accept that they are my purpose, and do my best to solve them, I will not solve them, I will never solve them, which will have meant that my life was lived in the pursuit of the irresolvable, my life will have been an unsolved problem, a thing thrown, a ball that is never caught, a house that is always falling, a life that is always disappearing.

There are problems that come from in front, pressing you forward. These problems force you to think ahead. There are problems that come from behind, pushing you back. These problems force you to think again. The problem of the house sliding comes from the future and the past. It comes from below and it comes from behind, it comes from all directions. It is both on its way and already here. Every problem that has not already manifested as an event, that is encroaching but conceivable to forestall has this duality. If a problem is from the past, and as of yet unsolved – a problem with a long half-life, a problem that remains a problem for generations, this means that the usual methods of problem solving, from the past, will not work, as, evidently, they have not worked or the problem would not remain. For such a problem, the future is not the future but a repetition of the past. Only when the problem comes to an end, only then can it be said that the future has arrived, when the problem becomes a memory – a story. Only problems that have become stories can be called “the past.” When problems have turned into stories told to future generations, as in once upon a time, they carry no foreboding. If, on the other hand, a problem beckons from the future, in the form of signs and auguries, the problem can only be solved by reading those signs and auguries accurately and acting accordingly.

One must determine the ratio of thought to action for a given problem. There are problems that are solved with thought and problems that are solved with action – some would say thinking is an action – there are of course thoughts that cause events – perhaps all thoughts cause events, are events, as ceaseless and countless as a teeming anthill – thoughts projected; thought projects – some people are able to project their thoughts into the world with so much force and intention that the world is entirely altered.


Miranda Mellis is the author of Demystifications (Solid Objects, 2021); The Instead, a book-length dialogue with Emily Abendroth (Carville Annex, 2016); The Quarry (Trafficker Press, 2013); The Spokes (Solid Objects, 2012); None of This Is Real (Sidebrow Press, 2012); Materialisms (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2009); and The Revisionist (Calamari Press, 2007). Look for her seasonal column at The Believer. She was a co-founding editor of The Encyclopedia Project and teaches at The Evergreen State College. [email protected]

About the Author

Kelly Krumrie‘s prose, poetry, and reviews are forthcoming from or appear in EntropyLa Vague, Black Warrior ReviewFull Stop, and elsewhere. She is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Denver where she serves as the prose editor for Denver Quarterly.