Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Focus on FOUR

     Numerous poems by Canadian poet Alice Major connect to science and mathematics, and Major has connected me with Ottawa poet and mechanical engineer Sneha Madhavan-Reese -- who has shared with me not only poetry but also the new-to-me fact that her home city of  Ottawa lies on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation.  Here is Madhavan-Reese's poem, "Four," a thoughtful reminder of the vast versatility of mathematical notions.
       Four     by Sneha Madhavan-Reese

               Is 4 the same 4 for everybody? -- Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions

       My mother draws her four with a right angle;
       my father's is pointed on top.  My daughter's four,
       half the time, is backwards.  Her sister signs,
       tucking a thumb into her raised palm.   

       "I just adore four," Big Bird sings, "the number
       for me," on an old record, old meaning
       from a time when every kid knew how to drop
       a needle into a spinning vinyl groove.

       Four forces govern all things in the universe.
       Carbon's four valence electrons form the basis
       for all life: our four limbs and four-chambered
       hearts, a four-leafed clover's lucky leaves.

       My father shows me how to write the number
       four in Malayalam--naalu, a round house
       with a curve of smoke escaping.  He says
       no one uses these characters anymore.

The poem "Four" was originally published in the chapbook Variations in Gravity (Textualis Press, 2015), and Alice Major alerted me to it via an email from the League of Canadian Poets.  More poetry by Sneha Madhavan-Reese is available here at her website.

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