Category Archives: Rachel Hadas


Yesterday morning was one news-heart-stopper after t’other, wasn’t it? Scarcely had I allowed my eyes to trail over the headlines when I saw that:

11 Climbers Had Died on K2

Alexander Solzhenitsyn Had Died


Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

It is much, much more difficult to ascend K2 than it is to ascend Mt. Everest. One route up K2 is called “The Magic Line” [eee!]; another, the most difficult route, is called “The Polish Line”. I have not read which route these climbers took. I know that they were trapped by broken ropes close to the summit. I read something else, a story from 1986; it was about a climber named Michel Parmentier, trapped on K2’s “south shoulder” during a blizzard. Other climbers, down at the base camp, tried to get him down the mountain over their radios. Apparently, they could hear him saying the words grande vide over and over again, which means “big emptiness”.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote “The Gulag Archipelago”, which–to my disgust–I have never read. He was sentenced to eight years in a Soviet labor camp, because he wrote unflatteringly of Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. His first published book was “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, about a man in a prison camp. The Soviet government banned his work. He spirited his writing out of the country on microfilm.

Once he said: “Truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit.”


On Saturday afternoon, my friend Lara and I taught a writing workshop we created for 2nd through 4th graders at 826Chi. We called our workshop “Word Chefs”. We talked about food, and we pretended that we were spaghetti and meatballs [you have not lived, until you have seen a small child divebomb his person at the ground, in order to imitate sauce being poured from a jar]. We created fantastical pretend recipes. They latched onto the idea and ran away with it, away and away, until our hands ached with the speed of our dry-erase markers, trying to catch every thought. We first worked together to create the recipe for:

chicken milk frog sandwiches

–which recipe includes, if I recall correctly, 500 chickens, 1,000 cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon of milk, 2 1-inch slices of pumpernickel bread, and 2 frogs [which cannot come from a lake, cannot be toads, and must be green with black spots].

[One angelic-faced girl added: “And two bear noses!”]

Then they all wrote their own recipes, as we and our teaching assistants wandered about, offering aid. “What’s your recipe?” I said to one young man. It was “banana avocado juice”. A benign-enough concoction, with the following ingredients, verbatim:

0 cups of sugar
3 cups of cups
4 cups of motorcycles

“So who eats this?” I said.

“A hat with eyes!” he said. “And its brains are in its mouth!”


Late in the month, late afternoon,
en route or waiting for the train,
spring barely peeking through mild rain:
what does this impatience mean?

Scarlet eruptions on the skin.
We’re poised: when will the war begin?
I crane to hear the starting gun.
What does this impatience mean?

Wait for the other shoe to drop.
What now is green will soon be ripe;
what’s ripening began as green,
so what does this impatience mean?

Is the best position for the hurt
of life in time to stay alert
or try to sleep to ease the strain,
the rash, the spring, the war, the rain,

oh what does this impatience mean?

Rachel Hadas



Filed under Poetry, Rachel Hadas, Stirring World Events

Fractal Geometry, or “Humor Me”

My superfriend Fischer got me a subscription to Seed Magazine [“Science is Culture”—did you know that?] this past Christmas.  I truly enjoy Seed’s glossy pages, and science, and articles about the ocean floor, but its sometimes-hipness does–at times–make me feel vaguely squicky. This is a publication which more or less dedicates an entire page to photographs of its supercool-editor at swishy foreign conferences, talking to pretty girls. I always wonder what he’s saying. “Hey,” he might be saying. “Your eyes are as green as mesostigma algae.” I know what I sometimes want to say. “Hey,” I sometimes want to say. “Hey, Seed. Fewer bourbon ads, more stuff about the length of a giant squid [10¹ m].” In its latest issue, however, I read a piece which introduced me to the concept of


–which I didn’t know existed; now I DO.  And that is my favorite. It was, essentially, a conversation between Paola Antonelli, senior curator of Architecture and Design at MOMA, and Benoît Mandelbrot, “father of fractal geometry” [quoth Seed: “the curator and the mathematician discuss fractals, architecture, and the death of Euclid”—well! La dee DA! My God, my God, what am I doing with my life?] During this conversation, Benoît Mandelbrot said:

My solutions involved shapes. So I was taking these very dry questions that [his professor] asked, and without being particularly conscious of my thinking process, solving them all—near instantly—in terms of real shapes. This took no effort whatsoever. I had, how to describe it? A very freakish gift. In every mathematical question that was asked, I just saw something real that had the same properties.”

Can you IMAGINE? Landsakes. I wish that I could look at a geometric equation and watch it come to life in my head, “fleshed, fair, erected indivisible” [Elizabeth Bishop—la dee DA!].


Would look like this:

Or perhaps like this:


Actually, that’s the equation which represents the area of an equilateral triangle. Suckaaaah!

But I think you know what I mean.

A much more comprehensive explanation of fractals would test me beyond my capabilities, and that is because when the Good Lord passed out “the math”, I was in the back of a metaphorical ice cream truck, up to my elbows in Rainbow Pops. To that end, go here if you want to learn more about them: they are really, really cool. Oh, man.


This picture [I’m picture-y today, I know] has been breaking me into little pieces and then putting me back together this week. It’s part of the stained glass window display–they’re called the “Whitefriars windows”–at St. Thomas Church in NYC. They’re renovating the lot of it.


Keep it in your mind’s eye, as you go about the business of your life, trying to be good.

New Year

Blue January light, cold, scoured, clear.
From the Sandia foothills looking down
and back to where I came from, and the town
spread out below, then back to the past year,

or three or more years carrying this load,
how do I feel unburdened: free and light?
Unanchored, dizzy, my precarious tight-
rope lowered to a mere terrestrial road?

The blank new month requires divination.
Sword, wand, ship, sandal: at the Flying Star
(we talk our way along; improvisation),
the cards laid out spell struggle, choice, and pain;
also a white horse champing in a green
meadow; a maiden moving down a long dark stair.

Rachel Hadas



Filed under Math and Science: General, Poetry, Rachel Hadas