Friday, November 11, 2011

My Poem Goes to Portugal

Several months ago I was contacted by Francisco Craveiro, a mathematics professor from the University of Coimbra in Portugal. It turned out that in addition to things mathematical he also enjoys poetry and translation. He especially likes poems with math-related subject matter. From time to time he gathers such poems together, translates, and compiles them in a chapbook which he reproduces and distributes. He had come across my poem, "The Mathematics of Your Leaving," from my first book, Eve's Red Dress. I don't know where he found the poem, but it first appeared in Rattle. Now while Rattle is a print journal the editor had also posted the poem on the journal's website, so perhaps that's where Francisco found it.

A few days ago I received a copy of the chapbook. Eight poets are included. There I am right after Charles Simic! I have no knowledge whatsoever of Portuguese, but it's a kick to have my poem translated into that language. I love how poems make their way around the world and end up in unexpected places.

Here's the cover of the chapbook

And here's the original poem in English:


Today I remembered my algebra book
flying across the room,
my father shouting I was stupid,
a dumb girl, because I couldn’t do math–
and all because you are leaving,
I’m calculating numbers,
totaling years, even
working out equations:
If x + 1 = 2, what is the value of x alone?
All day I’ve been thinking about
word problems: If a train travels west
at the speed of 60 miles per hour
against a thirty mile per hour wind, how fast
will you be gone?
Today I’ve added and subtracted,
multiplied and divided. I’ve mastered
fractions. Even that theorem
I could never understand–plus 1
plus minus 1 equals zero–is perfectly clear.
Then just when I think I’ve finally
caught on, a whiz kid now, a regular
Einstein, suddenly the numbers
betray me. No matter how many times
I count the beads on the abacus, work it out
on the calculator, everything comes
to nothing.
Mute and fractured, a dumb girl again,
I sit alone at my desk, staring
out the window, homework
incomplete. A square root unrooted,
I contemplate infinity.
–from Rattle #11, Summer 1999 

And now here it is in translation:                          


  1. Congratulations! Your expression of excitement at receiving the news and copy of the chapbook is wonderful.

    Would love to hear both versions aloud.

  2. There is an audio version of me reading the poem but it's so horrible I wouldn't post it. As for the Portuguese version, no can do.

  3. I knew there was at least one other math/poetry fan in the world! Nice recognition of your poetry's reach, I'd say.


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