Ode to Numbers poems by Sarah Glaz

picture of Sarah Glaz
Photo by Shannon McAvoy.  

In Ode to Numbers Sarah Glaz has created a fascinating mixture of poetry and mathematics in which each bespeaks the other. This is as passionate a book as it is erudite. Sarah Glaz moves naturally between the visceral world of strong emotions and the mathematical world of Commutative Rings. About the book, Emily Grosholz has written, “Because Sarah Glaz sees ‘a streak of mathematics in almost everything,’ this book of poems is a work of alchemy. Light rays in the sky, lines of gold, become x and y axes. The square root of 2 becomes a symbol of the irrationality that drove her family from Romania to Israel. Small stones stand for the calculus (in Latin) and the integral sign is a snake (in Leibnizian). The transcendental number e covers three pages laced with equations, first appearing as a pirate, then Euler’s namesake, then a peacock’s tail and finally a poetic star. Logic proves its own inability to prove with cymbals and umlauts. The precious fruit of labor is both a baby and a theorem, depending. The fabric of the universe is algebraic; lemmas are blue, corollaries orange, theorems purple. The poet’s backpack is full of theorems, and commutative rings grow in her garden instead of weeds. A ghazal utters a gazelle, water becomes wavelets, and sunshine weaves the Golden Ratio into everything it covers. Train tracks converge at infinity, defying Euclid’s Fifth Postulate. Don’t miss these transformations!”  Philip Holmes adds this: “These poems tell Sarah Glaz’s story, from childhood in Bucharest to her mathematical life in Israel and the US.  Surprising, rich and complex, they invite us to a journey through letters and numbers, with an ever-curious mind.” Alice Major notes that “This eloquent collection twines the history of mathematics with the story of a woman mathematician – the patterns, travels, discoveries that shape her life. Sarah Glaz deftly explores the dance between numbers and letters, and between the joy of ‘proof’ and the inevitable limits to certainty. In such expert hands, the language of math and the language of life reflect each other beautifully. And this from Barry Mazur: “Poetry is the most intimate voice we have and Mathematics the most transcendental.  In Ode to Numbers these voices sing together wonderfully.”
   
  Ode to Numbers cover image
  Wassily Kandinski, “Small Yellow,” courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery.

Sarah Glaz has moved from culture to culture and from language to language several times in her life. Born in Bucharest, Romania, she emigrated with her parents to Israel at age 11. After completing a Bachelor Degree in mathematics and philosophy at Tel Aviv University, she and her husband came to the United States as graduate students at Rutgers University. This was the site of two major events in Sarah’s life:  her son was born shortly after she passed the prelims, and she was introduced to Commutative Ring Theory and completed a Ph.D. thesis in this area of mathematics. Sarah went on to a research and teaching career in mathematics, joining the faculty of the Mathematics Department at the University of Connecticut in 1989. By the time of her retirement in 2017, Sarah had authored or edited about ninety publications and received several grants and prestigious visiting positions.  In 2007 she was elected a University Teaching Fellow.

Sarah has written poetry in the languages of all the countries where she has lived: Romanian, Hebrew and English. She is not far from poetry even in the country of mathematics, where her area of research falls into the region of pure mathematics, which according to Einstein is “the poetry of logical ideas.” Sarah started writing poetry in English in 1991 and found, to her delight, that the mathematics which shaped her life found its way into her poetry.  Since then, her poetry and translations from various languages have appeared in a number of literary and mathematical  journals and in several anthologies. This is Sarah’s first poetry collection.


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BOOK STATISTICS

BOOK STATISTICS

ISBN 978-1-943826-40-7

First Edition 2017

6" x 9" paperback, 112 pages
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SAMPLE POEMS
Copyright © 2017 by Sarah Glaz

 

Trains                                         

You have a train inside you;
a coal-driven engine puffs
black clouds of smoke through your ears;
a deep throated whistle
blows nightly warnings
when you pretend to sleep.
Where will it take you
chugging along as if there is no tomorrow?
Large wheels whir, iron spokes
clang-strike sparks
on steel tracks in your brain.
You are too short to reach
the first carriage doorstep,
short enough to see
the gap underneath it
open into pitch-black darkness,
black ripples of tension
stream dark on dark.
They cry, telling you
We’ll miss you!
You try to respond,
thinking of nothing,
blank — the way you always turn
inevitable to adventure,
afloat on smoke drifts toward nowhere.
Your parents fuss over luggage.
Back to back
in the narrow compartment,
they ruffle each other’s feathers
at every move.
You press your face to the window pane,
looking out.
Already you cannot distinguish
sharp contours—
dim figures grow dimmer.
Is it a red handkerchief waving,
a pale hand aglow
amidst sooty detail like moon-flesh?
Your breath on the window pane
draws geometric patterns.
This is how it begins.
You correct their shape
with one finger: star,
octagon, circle, flat helix.
Wipe the glass clean
with the dirty heel of your palm
and start again
from scratch.

If Not Loved, Then Useful            

Facing my students’
sighs and questions,
I realize they do not love
the abstract symbols
whose patterns shape my life.

For them the daring mystery
of algebraic equations
and the elusive charm of geometric figures
are equally incongruous as objects of
great love and admiration.

If not loved, then useful—

and for you, my dears,
I try to illustrate the miracle
by which the laws of nature
glimpsed through formulas
devised by human mind
(although, I must admit, but poor approximations)
acquire comprehensible dimensions
which may predict the future
or illuminate the past:

where hurricanes will hit the shore
and with what force,
the weight of passing cars across a bridge
that won’t collapse,
the purity of water
flowing from your faucet,
the quality of air you breathe.

A Woman in Love                                                                        

 

A woman in love sees
a trace of her beloved
in every man she meets:
a gesture or a glance,
a single strand of hair,
the shadow of a smile.
I see a streak of mathematics
in almost everything.

Like a Mathematical Proof                                              

 

A poem courses through me
like a mathematical proof,
arriving whole from nowhere,
from a distant galaxy of thought.
It pours on paper
impatiently
faster than my hand
can write,
stretches wings,
flaps,
twists and turns,
strikes sparks as it forms.
It is a creature
of indescribable
mystery
like a mathematical proof—
its passage
fills me
with
inner peace.

 


No Matter What I Do                                

My garden is neglected;
I grow poems instead.
Sometimes I wonder if,
between aptitude
and financial need,
I took a wrong turn,
arrived at weeds.
Occasional forsythias bloom
on bushes sprouted
out of windblown seeds
from other people’s gardens,
and tiger lilies’
freckled orange faces
show up every spring
no matter what I do.
Garden of unplanned blooms,
not many thanks to me.
I grew equations instead,
abstract rings,
before the drought
spread words
on top of cracked earth
and poems sprouted.
Somewhere along the way,
I took a wrong turn,
and found confusion.
Confusion.
Confusion,
no matter what I do.

Trieste, 1994: Celebration                             

The Hotel Mignon in Trieste,
Grignano, Miramare
(to keep tabs on reality
I record every beat of life)
is owned by la patrona.
I do not know her name—
perhaps Anna-Maria,
Claudia, Sofia.
Those names seem to suit
her simple confidence,
airy Tiramisu
drenched in brandy (Amaretto?),
the bira piccola,
grilled calamari
and insalata mista.
Her husband is Marco,
or Angelo, or Mario.
He loves to eat pasta,
it shows on his figure.
He piles empty kegs
of beer behind the albergo.
He may be the one
who changes the towels,
and makes up my bed
with an extra blanket.
Friday, he drives me
to the airport
at the crack of dawn
for thirty thousand lire.
Today it rains in Grignano,
the outskirts of Trieste.
On Via Junker
steps run up and down,
leading to
the Continua
and the Adriatic Sea
(respectively).
Tomorrow morning
I take an early train
to Venezia.
The fishermen come home
loaded with catch;
they sing an aria
I cannot quite place—
boat to shore level,
ropes to pier posts,
a wonderful duet.
I have dinner alone
at the trattoria,
when out of nowhere
it arrives—
the long-awaited
argument
that clinches the proof.

Euclid’s 5th Postulate                                                                                          

They were parallel tracks for a while, the trains
running smoothly from depot to depot, carrying

the precious cargo. Then the terrain changed,
began to tilt, and my energy, pushing both engines

uphill, waxed and waned. After the cancer, I
canceled the schedule. Train spotting is a favorite

pastime for some people: the engineers wave
from up high like winning warriors, their faces

smeared with black soot; broad grins make their
teeth shine bright. It was another life. I was

the steam and the coal fire, the turning cogs and
the pumping pistons, the speed and the furious prod.

Today I only drive the engine of words, and it is
getting harder to watch neglected numbers jump

over tracks and barriers like wooly sheep and let
the whoosh of passing trains brush their coats.

Words fly uphill of their own will: I am the
breath, but not the driving force—not even that.

The other train is lost for good deep in the woods,
a sorry wreck abandoned where the tracks converged.

My Mother Speaks

My mother speaks beyond the ridge
where she resides since she has passed away
words of wisdom heard so long ago I thought forever lost.
I think she is still here although invisible—
she blends with the air and my thoughts.
She bends over my writing
as if trying to decipher a foreign word.
“Look here,” she says, smiling serenely,
“no more mathematics—
you speak a language that is crystal clear.”