A Problem

A Problem. A Poem by Shaun Regenbaum (circa 2018)

A dark room with a bright lamp,

A lone piece of paper lying upon the desk,

A pencil swinging back and forth,

A quiet moment ready to be?

A quiet moment ready to be a mess.

When a problem arises,

The pencil starts twirling,

the light starts turning,

and the desk begins to clutter.

One piece of paper.

Two piece of paper.

A crumpled piece of paper.

The yawn begins the process,

The pencil continues its dance,

It rides across the fingers,

To signal a stance.

The light gets brighter,

The papers move,

From pile to file,

From file to can.

From can to tile.

One idea in,

Two ideas out.

Three ideas arise,

One idea dies.

Two ideas resurrect.

Three ideas connect

One idea,

And all is wrecked.

Oh the long laborious journey of a problem,

From inception it may bring a fixated respect,

Driving us to ignore every last desire,

Causing us to forget our thirst and hunger,

To bring us to a level much higher.

It keeps the thinker up at night,

Continually twirling his writing stick,

Scribbling his thoughts upon the blank canvas,

Letting the candle burn long and bright,

Ensuring success to the fickle conundrum.

For the tinkerer who cannot fix,

His fingers will remain grimy and dirty,

Keeping his tools engaged in the gears,

Running the motor and spinning the wheels,

Never stopping until the problem is patched.

The coder who has a bug in his poetry,

Keyboards will be tested by the merciless fingers,

The screen will shine strong all night long,

Coffee will run his mind until his eyes go dry,

For code with a bug is not to be left undone.

The dancer who has to get just that one move right,

Jumping and landing until feet go black,

Until the moon comes out and give her sight,

When the tendons hit position,

Waiting for that pose above definition.

Oh the life of a problem,

It lives in the mathematical abstractions,

It lives in the steel of our machines,

It lives wherever we dare put our minds,

It lives to demolish our dreams.

So we sit at our quiet desk,

A lamp swinging gently overhead,

Soft music playing in the background,

The problem playing in our head.

The pencil twists and turns,

It scribbles and scrabbles,

It bleeds the paper of its soul,

Sacrificing itself for the greater goal.

But a problem is a problem in its own right,

It begs and pleads to one day be solved,

Wishes for nothing more than a day’s respite,

To give breath to its restless contemplation.

So as soon as the problem gets tired,

That is what the moment arrives,

The moment to attack well and true,

And pierce to the heart of the issue.

And then the words will gush onto the paper,

The idea will flow from the yellowish pencil,

Weaving a pattern so intricate and central,

The lamp will guide the lead through treacherous night,

And no longer will the thinker be kept up by the light.

The tinkerer can then wash his oily tools,

The coder can rest his weary hands,

The dancer can unravel her tight bands,

And all can finally return to their lands.

Yet one problem never comes alone,

We sleep one night and wake up a second,

To find ourselves in a singular morn,

And then we begin to see,

That a problem is not about its solution,

But about the solver who dares face it,

The thinker and tinkerer, the dancer and poet,

Those who find themselves up at dawn,

Waiting for lightning to strike,

So they can live to revel in its awe,

A new problem,

A new solution,

Another sleepless night,

Another foodless day,

All to repeat,

An endless cycle,

For the sake of a problem,

Is to leave us solemn,

Something in us so primal,

That we can’t leave a second so silent,

Nor our wooden desk so clean and tidy,

Even the glass architect’s lamp left unlit,

For a tool to have some lead leftover?


A quiet moment must always be,

Always be disturbed,

Always be broken,

Always be total,

Totally full of noise,

Of the noise of our minds,

With another problem,

Another day,

Another paper,

So we may live to see another.