Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Divided selves, some of them savvy

     For social connections, it is desirable not to be pegged as a member of an outcast group.  And thus a mathematician is likely to have at least two selves -- one who lives in the world of mathematics and another separate social self that negotiates that rest-of-the-world where many fear and shun mathematics. I found a situation somewhat similar when I studied at Hunter College in Manhattan:  I needed a separate self who negotiated the city. The problem-solving farm girl who knew small towns well and big cities slightly seemed better equipped to adapt to city conversations than her fellow students could chat about anything west of the Hudson.  How many hundred miles must you drive to get to Pennsylvania? they wondered.  (The Delaware River boundary of PA is about 75 miles west of the George Washington Bridge.)
     In this vein, I present a poem that focuses on the country vs city divide -- and it involves a square look and a number.

     Green Market, New York   by Julia Spicher Kasdorf

     The first day of false spring, I hit the street,
     buoyant, my coat open.  I could keep walking
     and leave that job without cleaning my desk.
     At Union Square the country people slouch
     by crates of last fall's potatoes.
     An Amish lady tends her table of pies.
     I ask where her farm is.  "Upstate," she says,
     "but we moved from P.A, where the land is better
     and the growing season's longer by a month.
     I ask where in P.A.  "Towns you wouldn't know,
     around Mifflinburg, around Belleville."
     And I tell her I was born there.
     "Now who would your grandparents be?"
     "Thomas and Vesta Peachey."
     "Well, I was a Peachey," she says,
     and she grins like she sees the whole farm
     on my face.  "What a place your folks had,
     down Locust Grove.  Do you know my father,
     the harness shop on the Front Mountain Road?"
     I do.  And then we can't think what to say,
     that Valley so far from the traffic on Broadway.
     I choose a pie while she eyes my short hair
     then looks square on my face.  She knows
     I know better than to pay six dollars for this.
     "Do you live in the city?" she asks.  "Do you like it?"
     I say no. And that was no lie, Emma Peachey.
     I don't like New York, but sometimes these streets
     hold me as hard as we're held by rich earth.
     I have not forgotten that Bible verse:
     Whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back
     is not fit for the kingdom of God.

I have "Green Market" is on my shelf in Kasdorf's collection Sleeping Preacher (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992).  Another of her poems appeared in my August 5, 2013 posting.

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