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(DV) Wittman: Spheres







by Emily Ondine Wittman
March 3, 2006

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For Larry Summers


The email, written as a seduction ploy

or a joke—became an object lesson in the way

women position themselves towards science,

how they eroticize it. “Dear Physicist,

I saw your website. I want to join your lab.

I am a mermaid. I could be useful

with some of your optical, anti-vibration experiments.

I read about your project online and it excites me.

I’m including a link to some photos which I believe

you will find extremely interesting.

Do not hesitate to contact me.”

Still, I’ll state that this body, BMI unknown,

slid into tall boots, harnessed into fitted skirts,

clothed daily, weighed daily,

evaluated daily, sometimes furtively,

in the women’s locker room at the 12th Street gym,

is not, I protest, a way of looking, but a way of doing.

“Praise me,” the pamphlet at the clinic said,

“not for what I am or have, but what I do.”


While you were sleeping I shopped at the market.

And the man at the corner with the run down

cart of porn and tomatoes, well, not even porn,

just water-logged Howard Stern and water-logged

comics and bruised tomatoes,

said: “Hey, yer not gonna say hello?”

and asked for a kiss. I hid this from you,

made sure he closed his cart and left before

we walked back the same way up the street,

my street, 9th street, zip code: 19147.

I am a student of language. I do stupid

things, then confess (to me, to you) in a poem

that you may or may not read.


You’ll say I contradict me, I’m too emotional.

Yet I dream of tetrahedrons,

of “beautiful and unexpected symmetry,”

of noble metals, like gold, like opals,

or diamonds, which I admire in theory only.

The hysteria is there. A harried note to self:

“Study Plato’s solids. Master Pythagoras.

Learn about Spheres.” Hysteria,

and a willingness to find humiliation

at my very doorstep and make myself its author.

I have 80+ hours to join disconnected spheres

optimally, with elegance. Even now, scribbling,

I’ll find a thing, as you said, “like nothing

described in nature before.” If I shock you,

it’s an afterthought as I was—

close at hand, awake,

never great at math (by your standards),

yet tired of greatness, tired of standards.

Emily O. Wittman lives in Philadelphia where she teaches literature and humanities at a local university. This poem was first published in the print journal Sí Señor.