Fractals: An Elegy by C.P. Lesley

C. P. Lesley is the pseudonym of Carolyn Johnston Pouncy ’74. A specialist on 16th-century Russia, she is the managing editor of  Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History and editor and translator of The Domostroi: Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible, which won the Heldt Prize for Best Translation by a Woman in Slavic Studies in 1994.  The following essay was written in memory of Carolyn’s friend Gay Grissom, who died November 25, 2011.

Fractals. Quartz glittering in the light. Ferns uncurling, harbingers of spring. Galaxies spinning, ponderous as elephants. Lightning, ocean waves, pineapples, symphonies, peacock tails—art and science unified in mystery. Universes packed into spaces smaller than a thumbnail, vaster than the mind can hold.

Through ice-encrusted glass, a woman gazes at the snow-packed yard. Tiny stars melt beneath the strengthening sun, as the flesh melts from her bones on this Thanksgiving day. An invisible war wages among her cells—missile arcs following the same trajectory as comets. Thoughts soar to infinity; the physical body remains bound by nature’s rules.

Her family huddles nearby, doing its best to comfort. She plays along, accepts the reassurances, cherishing the knowledge that here she will always have a place. Who, recognizing true grief, would force those she loves to face so bitter a truth? But inside she knows: she will not see the ferns uncurl next year.

Cancer is a fractal, too.

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