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Published: Thu Jul 1 2010
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Brother Geometry

for André and Simone Weil


Your lips blue in anger
a smile tight as your hair
twisted in my hands. Your
fist in
_            _ my face.
Dear brother
how I love to bring
my foot
_                _ down hard on your
toe, to
_             _ hear you cry out;
_                                                  _ still—
I’d rather let you win, rather
give in,
_                _than let them send us
separately to our rooms.
Mother’s idiot friend
who pointed us out as
“Genius and Beauty” was
Ugly and Stupid: how
can people speak
before knowing anything? Or,
is it all we ever do? Tell me again,
the chiasmus of the
quadrilateral—I’m the slightest
angle off-center and never
convinced it’ll come straight.


Under the kitchen
table your whisper in my
ear. Tracing your
letters as I copy. Words,
numbers, equation,
_                                        _ and
balance. Where I stand
on the quay watching you,
my brother, swimming away
in maths. “It’s easy,” you say. “Here,
again, like this . . .” The geometrical
road to light: one moves, learns
by angles. Labor in any field
you choose and the trade works
its way into the body.
The news from Shanghai
brings word of famine and the world
hangs suspended in hunger (twins
always bring
_                          _ bad luck). Beauty
and genius—one stick taken up
to beat the other.


The Weils were a secular Jewish family in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century. André grew up to be one of the century’s famous mathematicians. He specialized in topology, studying the mutability and resilience of form. He also had a lifelong interest in Hinduism. Simone, a confirmed Platonist and scholar of Sanskrit, was a teacher of philosophy and social activist. The one book manuscript she completed in her short life, “Oppression and Liberty,” critiques both the capitalist and communist understanding of labor. She fought, briefly, in the Spanish Civil War for the Anarchists. Invalided home, she fell under the sway of the poetry of George Herbert and developed an enthusiasm for Christian mysticism. In 1940, the family fled Paris ahead of the German occupation, first to Vichy, then to New York in 1942. Simone ended up in London working with DeGaulle’s Free French government-in-exile. While in England, she developed plans for the reform of French education and also worked toward her dream of leading a legion of French paratroop nurses. She died in 1943, at age thirty-four, of complications from tuberculosis. Some say it was starvation, though the cause is disputed (her insistence on keeping to the diet dictated by the Nazis for the workers of wartime France probably didn’t help her chances for recovery). She was, in any case, as Sontag has told us, sick.

Kevin Ducey is the author of the poetry collection Rhinoceros (Copper Canyon Press). He lives in Madison, Wisconsin. (updated 10/2011)

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