Culture-Bridging ... on Serendip

Two Poems
by Andrea Friedman

In 1985, Bryn Mawr instituted a program for older women returning to college; they are called "McBride Scholars" in honor of Katherine McBride, a past president of the college. In May 2001, Andrea Friedman, a McBride geology major, spoke at the McBride graduation lunch about the "metamorphic" experience of being a McBride at Bryn Mawr. At the urging of Anne Dalke, an English professor and McBride advisor, Andrea shaped her remarks into a poem to be read at the 2002 graduation lunch, and also began to write other "women and geology" poems. Anne and Andrea offer two of them here as an example of the sort of generative work that can occur when the "bridge" beween the sciences and the humanities is crossed.

The plaque in the photo to the right reads in part

This faulted shale-limestone block, from the allochthonous Hamburg Sequence, south of Hamburg, Pa., is a product of the Late Ordovician (ca. 458 millions years ago), and commemorates the founding of the Department of Geology, Bryn Mawr College, by Florence Bascom, Ph.D., in 1895.


I've heard the word
bandied about when McBrides talk;
butterflies, cocoons, and the like.
Having spent some time with rocks
I'd say metamorphism, not metamorphosis
is the better story.

To make a metamorphic rock
(well, there are a few paths, but here is one),
take a rock (a shale perhaps, a mudstone)
and leave it where continents collide.
Bury it. Heat it. Fold. Flatten.
Apply pressure and stresses
(compressional, tensional, deviatoric).
And the rock changes.
It has to.

Too much stress too fast, it'll break
Too much heat--it melts.
But when conditions are ripe, just short of destruction,
The mud becomes mica; garnets emerge, blue-bladed kyanite:
The shale becomes schist.
No silken cocooning, no quiet emergence,
no mere cosmetic change, no, but a shift down to its very chemistry.
Atom by atom, the rock responds, its history rewritten
in its crystal lattice.

And after a few tens of millions of years
(an eon, an epoch)
our rock reemerges,
with the geological equivalent of a little wisdom and a few gray hairs.

(And these are the rocks dozing under the campus;
these are the walls of Taylor and Thomas,
the slow giant hearts of the Appalachians.)

And when you hold it in your hand,
and if you know how to read a rock,
then what you'll see is this: What it was. Where it's been. What fires it's seen.

So what I have to say is this:
if you're looking for a metaphor, and the topic is McBrides,
forget butterflies.
Think rocks.

Andrea Friedman, 01
April, 2002

Sediment Core
The geologist says
a sediment core
like a drinking straw stuck down through a layer cake, yes,
like a straw through a layer cake; it is a twenty-foot-long
four-inch-diameter clear plastic tube plunged vertically
through the ocean floor and then retrieved, yes,
providing a continuous record of sedimentation and erosion,
allowing for interpretation of geological events that occurred at a single location
over time, over millions of years, yes, millions of years;
the youngest sediments are at the top of the core,
and they get older and older the lower you go;
it is like a straw through a layer cake, yes,
a straw though a layer cake....

And I say
a sediment core
a diary read in reverse
my pile of old jeans: size 10, size 8, size 6
a stack of letters from former lovers
old house wallpaper, peeling, layer on layer
a page of Talmud
an hour with a really good shrink
a long answer to the right question
unbuttoning her gray silk blouse
the poem I wrote this morning.

Andrea Friedman
The Atlantic Twin, Manasquan Inlet, NJ
May 9, 2002