Friday, January 30, 2015

Twined Arcs, Defying Euclid

     The English language has adopted into current usage many terms from other languages.  French terms like coup de grace and haut monde have for many years been found in English dictionaries.  Recently, computer terms such as bite and captcha and google have achieved widespread use.  In addition, those of us who are fluent in the language of mathematics find that its terms sometimes offer a concise best way to describe a non-mathematical phenomenon.
     Mathematician-poet Sarah Glaz weaves mathematical terms into her poem, "Departures in May" -- a poem that uses the language of geometry to vivify the presence of loss, death and other dark forces.

       Departures in May     by Sarah Glaz

       Big things crush, inside the brain,
       like plaster of Paris on stone;
       a taste of splintered metal;
       terra-cotta hardness of heart's desire.
       Statues motionless
       at railroad depots,
       proclaim imitation as life.
       A white bird flies low above platforms,
       sweeps above train cars;
       The Orient Express of boundless motion--
       preserved lanterns,
       boundless upholstery,
       carriages of red absorbency,
       soundlessly waiting for late chances.
       I had been to Paris-Roma-Venezia,
       felt the grid of time
       curve in space, fluid,
       twined arcs convergent at infinity,
       defying Euclid.
       Suspended on pale May sky,
       puffed-up clouds--
       grave formulas,
       ominous signs,
       white droppings of the aged snow bird,
       death white.

This poem first appeared in Ibis Review, 1995.   Poet Sarah Glaz is a mathematics professor at the University of Connecticut and her webpage provides (scroll down) a wealth of links to poetry-math resources. News of Glaz's activity and her poems have appeared often in this blog; enter her name into the SEARCH box at the top of the right-hand column of this blog to find these various items.

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