Monday, July 15, 2019

Mother-daughter geometry -- in poetry . . .

     Last week (July 9) was the birthday of my mother -- and, although her body lies in a grave, her spirit continues to dance (and to both inform and confuse me).  Recently published in the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (January 2019 issue) this poem by Jenny Patton -- a creative writing teacher at Ohio State University and a wellness coach -- has been provoking my memories. 

       Geometry of Night     by Jenny Patton

       In three-dimensional Euclidean space,

       lines in a plane that do not meet are parallel.

       My beautiful aunt loved to sleep, blogs

       my insomniac cousin about my mother
       who went to her parallel life every night.

       Those studying Playfair’s axiom note the

       constant distance between parallel lines. 

       I try to imagine Mom’s parallel life, her
       dream world in which Dad, Joey and me,
       our life together, never touches her.

       Evidence lies in affine transformations,

       maps preserving the parallel alignment.

       I picture Santa Monica, sunflowers of Arles,

       Japanese gardens, but those we experienced
       together, places where we were congruent.

       Skew lines are neither parallel nor collide,

       yet parallel lines share a common plane.

       Now that she’s gone, maybe she lives this

       other life I struggle to envision.  Or perhaps
       the line of infinity offers closure, intersection.

Note:   In geometry, Playfair's axiom is a variant of the fifth postulate of Euclid (the parallel postulate).  It stipulates:   In a plane, given a line and a point not on it, there is at most one line parallel to the given line that can be drawn through the point.

A bit more about the poet's math-interests:  Though Jenny Patton teaches writing at Ohio State University, math surrounds her at home where she lives with a software engineer, aspiring physicist and actuary-in-training. From them, she's gained an appreciation for the ingenuity and creativity essential to the STEM fields and enjoyed blending mathematical elements with her writing. While she wrote a memoir about her deceased mother for her MFA thesis, the opportunity to integrate math and poetry fostered more insight into their relationship.


  1. Thank you for your support, JoAnne. I'm honored to have my poetry featured on "Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics." May your mother's spirit continue to dance through you, Jenny

    1. And may poetry and mathematics continue to dance together! Thanks for being a connector of these arts! JoAnne