Saturday, September 15, 2012

A poem for a math-friend

     On July 14, 2012, my good friend, Toni Carroll, passed on. I first knew Toni in the 1980s as a colleague in the department of mathematical sciences at Bloomsburg University.  Her warmth and inclusiveness drew many people to her and I was one of these.  In my view she also was fearless.  While I continued to contemplate action, she moved quickly toward righting an injustice.  I have learned from her to be a bit more brave.  
     Toni and I share an interest in the arts – for her, painting; for me, poetry.  Each of us, too, has had an ongoing curiosity for learning new things.  And so our last time together was a museum visit – on a lovely spring Thursday (March 1) I met Toni and her husband Tim (and a couple other students from their Road-Scholar group at the Peabody School of Music) at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  We combined chatter – as I caught up on news of her daughter and granddaughters, etc, etc --  with awed reaction to the outdoor sculpture and the Cone collection. And, instead of a picture of Toni, my camera holds a photo (posted below) of a portion of a museum mosaic that could illustrate geometric symmetries in Tim’s abstract algebra class.

     Dear, dear, Toni.  Yours was a life lived well.  I miss you.

     Remembering that last museum afternoon and so many other times together, I have written a poem, found beneath the mosaic photo.
Mosaic photo for Toni

 Girl-Talk      by JoAnne Growney

           Remembering Toni Carroll (1942-2012) – mathematician, 
                      computer scientist, humanitarian, activist, and friend.   

When two math-friends visit
the Baltimore Art Museum, on a day
when no non-maths are lurking nearby,
we may -- with no fear of harming --
chatter our mathiness.

When we pass
Max Bill’s Endless Ribbon
one of us may remark that the Mobius strip
is a math notion peculiarly popular
among non-mathematicians.

As we walk past tiled walls,
you can expect one of us to want
a photo of the mosaic pattern that shows so well
the symmetries of the square, a friendly group
one meets early in abstract algebra.

Both of us fight envy
of the Cone sisters who knew Gertrude Stein
and Matisse and Picasso.  And one of us wonders
why some need two names while others
find fame with only one.

Michael Heizer’s title,
Eight-part Circle draws us outside. 
Instead of a fragile curve, however, we find
a gathering of granite wedges --
“Eight parts of a disk.”

My friend is smart and kind. 
She tells me to relax my mathishness
and give the artists poetic license.  Only Humpty Dumpty
and other mathematicians want narrow,
exacting limits on what words mean.

Here is a link to several mathy poems presented, along with "Girl-Talk," at the 2012 Bridges Conference.

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