Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Latitude, longitude, and inauguration

Elizabeth Bodien now lives in a rural area in eastern Pennsylvania -- settling there after other lives in California, in Japan, in West Africa.  Here is a narrative poem using the geographic numbers of latitude and longitude drawn from the years that she was a childbirth instructor in West Africa.

Zero-Zero     by Elizabeth Bodien

He set up to sell men’s pomade to the masses.
“Hide Your Gray Hair!” was his sure path to riches.
He neglected to notice some men in his culture
looked forward to gray hair, when others would listen.

Sales went so poorly, he abandoned his plan,
but another was hovering, haunting him daily.
Not far off the shore in the warm Gulf of Guinea
lay invisible lines too unique to ignore.

The Greenwich Meridian and the earth’s great Equator
cross each other at their zero degrees.
Why not take folks to this unique location
where longitude, latitude start off their count?

They could party aboard until they reached the crossing,
then make a grand ritual at the magical point.
I argued in vain this was not a big draw.
He countered that ships note the Pacific’s date line.

“They don’t travel to see it,” I pestered him further.
“They’re on their way elsewhere, it just breaks up the trip.”
Undaunted, he added he need not be accurate.
“Those lines are not drawn on the waves of the sea.”

“No one would know if they’re off by some miles.
They could tell all their friends they’d seen Zero Zero.”
His zeal was contagious, idea novel at first,
but I feared he was sailing toward failing again.

At sea myself with his myriad schemes,
I never knew whether to oppose or applaud.
I wonder at times these many years later
where that unfailing passion is chasing him now.

Also on my mind today is the recent inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term.  Inaugural poet Richard Blanco accepted the impossible task of creating a poem to please a president and a nation.  I much enjoyed hearing (via television) his reading of "One Today" during the inauguration ceremony last Monday.  This is an inclusive poem, including a diversity of imagery that does not neglect mathematics.  (Blanco, a civil engineer as well as a poet, includes in his poem both "to teach geometry" and "equations to solve.")  Here is a link to the ABCNews presentation of the poem.

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