sonya dorman

'On The Marriage of Art and Science,' Sonya Dorman

                                 for Jerry

we lean together over fuming acid
over the Bunsen burner’s small roar
stare out through a lens
to star’s fire
taking turns with the same equipment
you rise from your studies
holding a new crystal’s growth
and I sink back
from my labors with a poem in my mouth

I take object from my lips
five-pointed it’s like the cakes
our mothers baked
each with a red lamp     a heart
in its middle
or it’s a five-fingered poem
here’s the life line that goes
all the way with no break
I carry the hand cake to you

you take a word from my cake
in your teeth
I bite off a research point
it makes a sound like a kiss
we go back to work
my poem smiling on your lip
your crystal sugaring my tongue

Sonya Dorman (1924–2005) was a science fiction writer and poet from New York City. She wrote mostly short stories, but was famous in and outside of science fiction circles for her poetry too, in particular her award-winning poem ‘Corruption of Metals.’

I chose this poem–or it chose me–on the merits of the last two lines, which should really be an image so common and trite I find it repellent, but for some reason it stood out to me. There’s a careful balancing act in this whole poem: the scene it’s showing is very straightforward and understandable, yet at the same time there is something of this poem which is always kept a mystery. The imagery of the “cakes” which seems to fluctuate (first it’s a descriptive comparison for a crystal, then the crystal seems to actually 'become’ the cake–is this close to a metonym?), for example.

We are promised a poem which will tell us about the marriage of art and science, but do we really get that? With a different title we’d take it as a poem about a romance between two people, and nothing more; and perhaps this poem is nothing more than about how people with wildly different mindsets can find unity. But, in one of my typical indulgent moves, I also like the idea that the obscurity of this poem is very deliberate, and it is the overt efforts to make the reader 'analyse’ the poem and decisions made by Dorman that is the 'science’ here–pointing to what the unity of art and science really is. 

The child dreams that her dream
is faster than light, because
we promised her that’s how death
would come for her. Queen of the sky,
she will slip away at her own speed,
and dreams of rockets big enough
to lift above the oceans.

She soars through the universe,
leaving cliffs where her family
hangs; she will not be Andromeda,
bound to a rock until the prince
comes, but fly on her own
from our stifling kitchens.

The prince is a figment
of our boring legends, he is
the gravity her sleep-ship
may escape from. Dressed
in a red shift, she’s always
a world ahead of his weight.

—  The Child Dreams, Sonya Dorman