Cathexis Northwest Press
Ode to the Line; Pythagorean Theorem
By: Corinne Hughes
Ode to the Line
from here to there
distance imagined reality measured
necessity, luxury a thirst
from desert to jungle
a path preparations
mountains rise and fall
desolate plains exhale
prairies slide trees drip
from the past to the future
time unravels in hands
existence forms in lifetimes
movement, perpetual infinity, destiny
from here to there
simplistic epiphany roar of numbers
a claim, friction collision
but without end
They persuaded me to get to know you with strawberry lollipops
and stories of your old man shining in the dark cave.
They told me, I, too, could do great things less I were childish.
They told me you were stubborn too but insensitive
because you refused to change your ways.
I found you charming, though, with your epic truth.
They said, I could take you anywhere: Iraq, Peru, Japan,
and hold you up as a sign of unity.
You, the golden coin that affords
every bridge’s toll booth, the great hero.
Of course, I had other places in mind for you, other terrains
where wars are fought with utensils and medicine,
where the human heart collapses on the frame of a bed,
where there is no longer any shared language.
You see, there were no triangles in the room where my father lay dying.
No mimesis profiled the outlines of other places, other things,
nothing spilled out of those stiff, unnaturally white sheets.
The plastered walls were silent and boulder-heavy, the floor featureless,
the drips dripping, the beeps beeping, everything defiant of a deeper meaning
No geometry lined up the edges of the bed with the sky to form equality,
no algebraic sentence swept me off my heavy feet to some magnificent ether.
You see, you turned out to be more timid than I thought.
Growing faint in my memory now like the echo of an old folk song,
a chanting calculation pointing to nothing and nowhere,
This is the earth I am frightened
and you are silent.
Corinne Hughes is a queer poet, essayist, and fiction writer. She has received a poetry fellowship from the National Book Foundation, and her poems have been published by Passengers Journal and High Shelf Press. Her essays can also be found online at Museum Studies Abroad. Born in the Texas hill country, she now resides in Portland, Oregon with her two blue Finnish gerbils.
Behind the Scenes:
Ode to the Line: I wrote this poem in direct response to "Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Line," a chapter from Tour of the Calculus by David Berlinski and in tribute to all the mathematicians who devoted their lives to inventing coherence and continuity. The line presents all the problems humans face as well as the answers. It wasn't until recently that I decided to stretch out the verses into two columns to create a sense of space in each line. There have been debates as to whether there is space between two points, if there is such a thing as two points, or three, and whether a line can ever be severed. So, I also chose to be asymmetrical with the columns, to have a line or so without a partnering column to emphasize these questions.
Pythagorean Theorem: This is a very personal poem I wrote during a time when I was deeply entrenched in the poetry of Sylvia Plath. Math was one of my favorite subjects growing up because it brought together the abstract with the rational, which I found incredibly comforting. This theorem was like a friend or a worry rock I carried in my pocket to rub when I felt confused by life. No matter what, the theorem was absolute and that there could be something absolute in the world made it less frightening. But grief was very powerful. Even math seemed to no longer make sense or, even if it did make sense, what did it matter.