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Loss of Identity

** **Some of the richness of a poem comes from the multiple meanings available for the poet's words. We read "line" and think of the geometric straight thing and of the type of work a person does and of a particular list of products and . . . . For mathematicians, a given term may have a precise mathematical specification that trumps all the others. (See, for example, the discussion of "random" in the 5 December 2012 posting.)
A math term that especially interests me poetically is "identity." One has a unique "identity" and experiences "identity theft" or an "identity crisis" -- each time I hear the word my cross-referencing brain links to the mathematical notion of identity. In the integers, the element zero, **0,** is an **identity** for addition since 0 added to any integer produces no change. Likewise, **1** is an *identity *for multiplication** **since 1 multiplied by any integer produces no change.
When I read Jerome Rothenberg's poem "45 / I Give Up My Identity," my considerations included not only personal ones but also speculation about the integers without **0 **or *1* -- indeed, a sort of crisis.
Here, to reflect on, is Rothenberg's poem:
** 45**
** I Give Up My Identity ** by Jerome Rothenberg
My name is smaller
than it sounds.
I work & polish it
until a light
shines through.
I thrust a thorn under
my tongue.
I drop the little stones
behind me. Striding
I can feel my height extend
up to the rafters.
My voice is thin,
still thinner
is the space between
my footsteps
& the earth.
I do not want you
calling me
except at the allotted
times. I scratch my head
because I know
it's empty. Hot & cold
are equal terms.
I give up my identity
to write to you.
The notice on the board says:
Stay at home
Be vigilant
The aim of medicine is
medicine.
I can hardly wait until
tomorrow.
Signals everywhere
are fraught
with terror.
In the deepest
waters spread around
the globe
there is a sense
of life so full
no space exists
outside it.
I will go on writing
till I drop
& you can read my words
beyond my caring.
Jerome Rothenberg is an emeritus professor at UCSD; this poem is from *A Book of Witness* (New Directions, 2003).
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