Saturday, February 12, 2011

Loving a mathematician (Valentine's Day and . . . )

A perfect way to celebrate Valentine's Day -- especially for you who enjoy mathematics --  read (aloud and to each other) some "poems of love and mathematics." Such is easily possible, for the anthology, Strange Attractors: Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008), edited by Sarah Glaz and me, contains words on the topic by more than 150 poetic voices.  
     Two of the anthology poems have the title "Valentine" -- here is the final line of the one by Katharine O'Brien:
        . . . won't you be my cardioid?"
and the final pair of lines of Michael Stueben's  verse:

       I love you as one over x,
       as x approaches zero.

Many statements of love and mathematics are more serious than these.  The blog posting for  20 July 2010 offered a poem by Kathabela Wilson in honor of her husband Rick.  Today's feature is "Loving a Mathematician" by California poet Hannah Stein and dedicated to her husband Sherman.  Using Pi and other mathematical imagery, Stein speaks of the distances traveled to reach even the tip of understanding of the mind and thoughts of another whom one loves. 

Loving a Mathematician      by Hannah Stein

The ether, or whatever's up there--
some infinite glassy staircase--
crackles for you
with truth, with beauty -- and I
have never followed you even to
the second rung.  I used to think Pi
was just a way of measuring circles.
You tell me now that Pi dwells
in gaseous, in liquid universes
where there are no circles, where rings
couldn't form if I dropped a pebble.
For there are no pebbles either --
no discs no balls no equators,
only pure structure.
It's true, you say,
that Pi always turns up,
like an old irrational uncle
who's been traveling round the country
doing card tricks.  But circles
are only one of his arts:
Pi rolls his thumb through the ink
of odd numbers; from his hiding place in
square roots under square roots like
a wagonload of misshapen potatoes
Pi shines traces beyond
the galaxies mathematicians map,
haunts the void between electrons,
stalks black holes and red shifts.
Inching like a growing crystal
into cosmic chinks, Pi waits
for thought to close in, waits
to be pounced on with a pencil
as his secrets repercuss
into patient, searching minds.
I ask you this:  does Pi buckle
the whole universe together?
Can Pi be God?

For the first time I believe
I could follow you up and up --

This poem, dedicated to her husband, Sherman, appears in Earthlight (La Questa Press, 2000) © Hannah Stein.  Sherman Stein's poem, "Mathematician," appeared in our 28 January 2011 posting.

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