Anne Collins – The Missing Zero

Collins LE P&W January 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing, January 2024

The Missing Zero, poems by Anne Collins.

The Missing Zero

My poem about Time was published online.
After the elation – deflation, when I discovered
a minor typo not seen before, a missing zero.
Too late said the editor and fair enough.
But I was then astonished to learn this zero
was missing from the first draft. Right from the start
it went AWOL yet my brain kept seeing it there
standing to attention with the other two zeros.
Draft after draft, my brain kept telling my eye
it was seeing something that was in fact invisible
on the page and more so on the screen.

Once again, I’d fallen into the dreaded pit
of proofreading perils that shows no mercy.
Is there some kind of catharsis in confessing
to the flaw behind the glass of the computer screen?
Is there any point in hoping that readers’ brains too
will see the absent zero as if it were there?
Is the absence any less real when it is virtual?
It was little consolation to read of the famous biographer
lamenting that the only Greek word in his book was wrong.
I know how he felt. And this was in the pre-internet era
when publishers employed dedicated proofreaders and editors
instead of leaving it up to the ill-fated poet
who after writing, revising and re-checking,
can’t see the spaces for the zeros.
I’ve been known to see typos when they weren’t there.

How the brain and the eyes collude to NOT SEE
the errors that appear with their sickening lights on
after the poem or book has been published.
The Time poem was 99% correct but what do I wake up and think about?
The missing zero. What can I do but get some fresh air.
On the verandah a carpenter is calculating and re-checking
his measurements. I notice a wooden beam with a hole in it,
drilled by mistake. It’s as if the missing zero had escaped
outside and was letting the wind blow through it,
letting it blow away the humiliations of human error
and the impossible idea of perfection. Perhaps it’s best
to simply let go, knowing the missing zero has abandoned you.
And to remember the mediation mantra when it says, gently,
at the point of zero you will reach absolute stillness.

© Anne Collins

Anne Collins writes poetry and creative non-fiction. Her most recent book is collection of poetry and prose with Spanish themes titled Listening to the Deep Song (Bright South press, 2022). Her previous poetry collections are How to Belong (2019); The Language of Water (2014), Seasoned with Honey (2008) a 4-poet anthology; and The Season of Chance (2005). Another collection of poetry and prose is titled My Friends, This Landscape (2011).  Anne lives in nipaluna (Hobart) lutruwita (Tasmania). For more information go to

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