Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Elegy from Argentina

Mathematicians are mourning the too-soon death of Cora Sadosky (1940-2010) on December 3.  Born in Argentina, Sadosky earned her doctoral degree at the University of Chicago in 1965 and published more than fifty papers in harmonic analysis and operator theory. A strong advocate for women in mathematics (1993-95 president of AWM) and active in promoting greater participation of African-Americans in mathematics, Sadosky was a long-time faculty member at Howard University.
     Here, in recognition of the contributions of Cora Sadosky, is "An Elegy" by Argentinian poet Mirta Rosenberg.  Using Rosenberg's words for her mother, we celebrate a foremother in mathematics:

     An Elegy      by Mirta Rosenburg

     In my mother’s day
     women were provable.
     My mother sat next to my grandmother
     and both were completely of flesh and bone.

     I am barely a stable outcome
     of that surplus of reality.

     And in the anxiety of the indefinite past,
     in the durative aspect of electing,
     I write now: an elegy.

     In my mother’s day
     women were abiding,
     completely bone and flesh.
     My mother put on the necklace
     of silver and turquoise stones
     my father had brought her from Sweden
     and sat at the table like some exotic spices,
     so that everything would become larger than life
     and any fiction possible.

     In my mother’s day, women
     were a crux: my mother told
     my brother and me: ‘when I came out of school,
     I went to where my father worked,
     in Santa Fe, and his workmates told him she’s a biscuit,
     your daughter’s a biscuit, and I never knew what they meant,
     saying I was a biscuit’, a sponge cake when she was very sick,
     exquisite porcelain for us still,
     and my brother pressing her for more: ‘And?’

     I don’t know what a biscuit is. Some exotic spice,
     something, in any case, special? Perhaps
     she roamed delicately round the house, brushing her eighties
     as one brushes a wound
     with a bit of gauze.

     In my mother’s day
     women were very visible.
     My mother looked at herself in mirrors
     and I never managed to take in
     her image with my eyes. She was beyond me
     and I intuited her from afar like something yearned for.
     Like now,
     an elegy.

     To the adorable little girl
     fixed in the remoteness of the photo,
     who at eight already seemed
     larger than life: I miss you,
     although I did not know you. That was before
     you gave me life
     in a barely natural size.
     All the same,
     an elegy.

     And to the other one of the photo that I hope
     to conserve, the beautiful woman who holds
     the book before her daughter aged one year
     in the sham of reading:
     I love you for what lasts, and it is sufficient
     to read in the present, although your star’s
     gone out.

     For her,
     an elegy.
     Now I am the photograph
     and you the developing fluid. Your death
     turns me into myself:  like an applied science,
     I am cause and effect,
     trial and error, this void
     of nothingness that beats against the heart
     like an empty husk.
     An elegy,
     more and more right each time.

© 1988, Mirta Rosenberg, from El arte de peder (Bajo la luna nueva, Buenos Aires, 1988);  translation, 2008, Julie Wark.  At  Poetry International Web also may be found the Spanish original of Mirta Rosenberg's poem.

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