Saturday, August 27, 2011

Earthquake and Hurricane

It would not be easy to argue that a poem whose numbers merely identify its stanzas is "mathematical" but "Curriculum Vitae," found at and written by Pullitzer Prize winning poet Lisel Mueller, also contains the words "earthquake" and "hurricane" and thereby is significant on this Saturday in Silver Spring -- five days after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake damaged both the Washington Monument and the National Cathedral and on the very day that millions of us are watching the progress of Hurricane Irene as it storms north along the eastern coast of the US. In acknowledgment of these days, I invite you to read this fine poem:

   Curriculum Vitae    by Lisel Mueller 


   1) I was born in a Free City, near the North Sea.

   2) In the year of my birth, money was shredded into
confetti. A loaf of bread cost a million marks. Of
course I do not remember this.

   3) Parents and grandparents hovered around me. The
world I lived in had a soft voice and no claws.

   4) A cornucopia filled with treats took me into a building
with bells. A wide-bosomed teacher took me in.

   5) At home the bookshelves connected heaven and earth.

   6) On Sundays the city child waded through pinecones
and primrose marshes, a short train ride away.

   7) My country was struck by history more deadly than
earthquakes or hurricanes.

   8) My father was busy eluding the monsters. My mother
told me the walls had ears. I learned the burden of secrets.

   9) I moved into the too bright days, the too dark nights
of adolescence.

   10) Two parents, two daughters, we followed the sun
and the moon across the ocean. My grandparents stayed
behind in darkness.

   11) In the new language everyone spoke too fast. Eventually
I caught up with them.

   12) When I met you, the new language became the language
of love.

   13) The death of the mother hurt the daughter into poetry.
The daughter became a mother of daughters.

   14) Ordinary life: the plenty and thick of it. Knots tying
threads to everywhere. The past pushed away, the future left
unimagined for the sake of the glorious, difficult, passionate

   15) Years and years of this.

   16) The children no longer children. An old man's pain, an
old man's loneliness.

   17) And then my father too disappeared.

   18) I tried to go home again. I stood at the door to my
childhood, but it was closed to the public.

   19) One day, on a crowded elevator, everyone's face was younger
than mine.

   20) So far, so good. The brilliant days and nights are
breathless in their hurry. We follow, you and I.

"Curriculum Vitae" is found in Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller, (LSU Press, 1996). 

For earthquake and hurricane, consider also these:
"Counting" by Douglas Goetsch -- it contains the word "earthquake" and may be found in Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (A K Peters, 2008).  "Reservation Mathematics" by Sherman Alexie contains the word "hurricane" and may be found Numbers and Faces -- a small anthology of poetry-with-mathematical-imagery that's available here.

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