This poem is an adaptation of the 31st Psalm to describe what was going through John Nash’s mind when he went to greet his wife, Alicia, for the first time since his initial psychiatric admission at a Harvard medical center. The mood is doggedly optimistic, leading up to the moment when she is about to interrupt him to show him that his drop box has never been opened, and all his classified documents are still sealed. Working on this poem, which is based on the 31st Psalm, meant watching A Beautiful Mind again for the first time in a long time. Definitely triggering, but worth it.
John’s pugnacity as a student in this story really inspires me, abrasive and nonconformist though he is. I love the idea of chasing a theory of everything, at all costs. That’s where you want to be, if you go in for higher education – you want to be at the leading edge of discovery, but you want more than just an original idea – you want it to all make sense.
I’ve been reading another pugnacious mathematician’s science writing lately, and her enchanting way of writing about the need to reconcile truth with beauty, measurement with intuition, in the expressions of quantum physics gives the impression that in her own way, she anticipated the work of mathematicians like Nash – even if only by stating the need for the solutions they found, before they had taken up the problems themselves. Her name is Simone Weil – highly recommend anything written by her.
In these, the images of truth, I shelter.
In this language hides my eloquence and pride.
From proportion comes grace, from leverage, freedom.
These governing dynamics speak, they listen.
But time is running short for them to save us.
Stand by me now, more solid than thought – be strong,
for we are under siege – your arms are my fortress.
At your hand alone can I grasp for safety,
and in this, I will need you to be my guide.
Help me escape this trap that they laid for me,
help me, for you are my only stronghold now.
My life’s work, our futures, are safe in your care.
You know me as no one else can – I trust you.
I hate this terrible secrecy, the lies.
But through everything, I trusted in our love.
Let me relax for an instant with you here,
relieved that you came for me, that you can see
what these people are putting me through, the loss.
I know you are not the one who betrayed me,
you can discover a way to get me out.
Help me find the axis of symmetry.
My mind is exhausted and numb from these shocks,
my throat and my belly convulse every time.
I was in despair even before – worn out,
trapped in secrecy, hunted, afraid for us.
I faltered because I had too much to hide,
my body was failing me, broken by nerves.
To my old colleagues, I must seem a disgrace,
the same to our neighbors, a threat to our friends.
Those who see me walking by draw back from me.
They have emptied their hearts of feeling for us,
and I have been drifting, unpiloted, lost.
I heard their whispers, the slander and mocking,
but terror consumed all my thoughts regardless,
so when this conspiracy closed around me,
I knew already they meant to take my life.
Deep in my mind, I build a refuge for facts.
I said to myself, “the truth will set us free.”
Our lives hang in the balance – I can save us
from the secrecy and lies, if you’ll trust me.
Take my hand, and use your genius for magic,
be my rescuer from this insane impasse.
Help me lift my head and show my face again.
Shame is for the double-dealing, wretched spooks
who tried to drag me down with them with death threats.
Somehow I will outmaneuver these liars,
silencing their self-important, unjust slurs
– they treat us with such arrogance and contempt!
Somehow I will justify your faith in me,
that you hid from these, my gaolers, to see me.
You have wrought miracles – keeping me going
under the noses of hostile observers.
Keep your voice low, though – your presence is enough
to rally my strength – they may be listening.
Hide your hopes for our future from my captors
and ignore the slanders heaped on me for this.
We must join our faith in the impossible,
for against all expectation, truth will out
even through the darkest of our night terrors.
A day ago, my racing thoughts misled me:
“I have been banished here because you left me.”
But you must’ve heard when I cried out for help,
pleading my case with anyone, everyone.
Trust me, now, to appeal to a higher law,
a system of probabilities that clinch
the most elusive codes imaginable.
Lend me the strength of your heart, for my hands shake –
ours is a chance no one can spirit away.