Marie Curie and the Isotopes, World Tour 1911
is what my new t-shirt that I got for Christmas says
under her picture.
When I unwrapped it, my son was mysteriously
exasperated and asked why I like Marie Curie so much
anyway, which oddly I was unprepared to answer.
I think I said that winter in Paris when she wore
everything she owned to stay warm in her attic room
while she nobly studied Chemistry
for the good of all of us, or maybe Pierre’s head
crushed by the wheel of a carriage
leaving her to raise Irene and Eve on her own
or how she left them home alone at night
while she went to the laboratory to finish the work
she and Pierre had started or how she and Irene
dragged their x-ray machine onto the fields of WW1
to help the soldiers or maybe her hands rotting
and killing her or the glowing journal
she left in her drawer.
I mean, any one of these is a good enough reason.
But he was right when he said that I was never good
at science. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn
those flowered skirts and thought only of boys
and suffering. Was Marie the antidote?
Like my own mother to whom I wouldn’t listen?
Once someone asked her
if she was a poet too, and she said No,
with an expression of almost horror,
I’m a social scientist.
I gave my nephew a Mama Llama book for Christmas,
and my mother called to tell me she approves
of Mama Llama. Mama Llama doesn’t like
melodrama. Well, of course she doesn’t.
The rhyme was inevitable.
In the library at St. Aloysius Grade School,
there was a section of biographies of famous women
that included St. Theresa of the Little Flower,
Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and Marie Curie.
I checked them out again as soon as they were due.
Marie Curie was the one most famous
for her mind. Kindness was what my mother said
I had already, and this was clearly disappointing.
I think it would help if I had a band.
Like the Isotopes. I have never heard them but imagine
they are as clever as Bach’s two-part inventions
which I always loved playing because you had to tell
one hand to do something completely different
than the other, not just complementary but distinct
and simultaneous. It is easy to think danger
is beautiful when you’re not in it
or to love the thing you are discovering
when you don’t yet know it's killing you.
I am discovering something. I can feel it coming closer.
Like the new year that is about to begin
in this late afternoon darkness,
the Christmas lights beaming sadly
after their time has passed, which is difficult
to determine while it's happening
but you know when it has.
I wonder if Marie Curie was surprised
when she learned that science had deceived her.
I know she did not admit that radiation exposure
could have had anything to do
with her illness and death, which is in keeping
with her character, and thus another thing
I must admire.