Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Calculus (and calyculus)

For lots of years I have subscribed to A.Word.A.Day, founded by Anu Garg, and on 3 June 2013  -- offered in the category of "words that appear to be misspellings" -- the word that appeared in my email was calyculus (kuh-LIK-yuh-luhs), a noun designating a cup-shaped structure.  From this, of course, my thoughts turned to calculus and to poems on that subject.  Below I offer "UR-CALCULUS" by Jonathan HoldenThis Kansan poet has said that that his physicist father would write equations while sitting at the dining room table -- and "UR-CALCULUS" considers mathematics from a boy-riding-in-the-back-seat-of-a-car point of view.  

     UR-CALCULUS     by Jonathan Holden

               The child is the father of the man. 
                        -- W. W. Wordsworth

     Back then, "Calculus"
     was a scary college word,
     and yet we studied it
     from the back seat, we studied  
     the rates at which
     the roadside trees went striding 
     past the hazy farther trees, the hazier
     a tree the farther off
     it stood.
     The ghostliest,
     far across the fields,
     hardly moved at all.  A line
     of spectators, they'd turn
     their heads together
     as if to watch
     us pass
     before fog erased them.

     We knew there had
     to be a way
     to predict
     the position of every tree
     in relation
     to every other tree,
     and to measure it
     We had no idea
     how to do it yet.

This poem is found in Holden's 1997 collection, UR-MATH  (State Street Press Chapbooks, 1997).  My previous postings of Holden's poems include "Integrals" on 22 January 2011, "Srinivasa Ramanujan" on 18 February 2011, and "Night Game" on 18 September 2011.

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