It was 1956. I was in the sixth grade.
I opened the top of my desk. There
was my wooden ruler. I had an idea.
In my mind, I took my ruler to the big
window in our classroom. In my mind,
my wooden ruler had on it two magic
buttons--one to elongate the ruler, the
other to activate the magic drill on the
other end of my magic ruler. I opened
the big window a bit so I could stick my
ruler outside. Then I pressed the
magic button to elongate my ruler,
which it did. The ruler began to elongate,
first through the tree limbs and branches,
then through the sky and clouds,
then through the rest of Earth’s
atmosphere, then through space,
through our solar system, then
through our galaxy, then through
deep space, and then through
deeper and deeper and deeper
Space until it hit something that
Stopped my magic ruler from
elongating further. The magic drill
bit could drill through anything for-
ever, so I pressed the magic button
to activate the magic drill bit. It began
to drill through whatever had stopped
my magic ruler from elongating and
continued to drill for a long, long time.
Finally, the magic drill bit drilled all
the way through whatever had been
blocking my magic ruler, so I pressed
again the magic button to start my magic
ruler to start elongating again. After a
long, long time, I realized I could go
on forever, so I began to retract it.
Eventually, it came back through the
open classroom window.
Then I took my 12-inch wooden ruler
back to me desk. I had another idea.
This time I didn’t need a magic ruler,
just the one I had. But I did need a
pencil and a piece of paper, which I
found inside my desk. I put the ruler,
the pencil, and the piece of paper on
the top of my desk. The I began di-
viding the 12-inch ruler mathematically
in half, first from 12 inches to six inches,
then into three inches, then into 1 ½,
then into 3/4ths, then into 3/8ths, then
into 3/16ths, then into 3/32ths, then
into 3/64ths, then into 3/128ths, and so
on. If I had wanted to, I could have gone
This is how Iearned in sixth grade, by
myself, that infinity was reality, not what
appeared to be finite. I speculated, there-
fore, that if one person stared through
the most powerful telescope that ever
could be made and a another person
stared through the most powerful
microscope that ever could be made,
they would wind up staring at each other.
Copyright 2019 Tod Howard Hawks
A graduate of Andover and Columbia College, Columbia University, Tod Howard Hawks has been a poet and human-rights advocate his entire adult life.