Maria Salomea Skłodowska Curie; or, Marie Curie, November 7, 1867-July 4, 1934.
Aplastic anemia resulted from her years of exposure to radiation as a physicist and chemist.
The curie (symbol Ci) is a unit of measurement of radioactivity.
Caught between a land partitioned amongst three empires
and a land that only claimed what others sought to claim
when others sought to claim it—
elements are born of mind and earth,
are separated when nations are not,
are named in lieu of independence.
Women will fight their way out from under
crushing glass that presses overhead, will prevail despite war,
despite atheism in a time of god, xenophobia to falsely accuse,
man’s irrefutable incontrovertible knowledge
that breasts can only wink, not think.
A refusal to patent a discovery
so that science may not be hindered—
perhaps the highest discovery: the greater good.
The firsts would be turned down, gold medals
exchanged for war funds, prize money doled to friends—
while the breath sneaks in radiation.
Cold winters go uninsulated, yet isolated as isotopes;
body collapses from hunger, depression, yet still clutches
test tubes in a shed unventilated, unwaterproofed.
A woman cannot give a speech. A woman cannot
take the chair. A woman cannot get the job.
A woman cannot make the academy list.
But a man’s greatest discovery is his wife;
a woman discovers herself.
In tons of ore, she is discovered. In thousands of miles
for one gram of radium. In pitchblende, torbernite,
thorium, in radiography units
injecting infected tissues on the frontlines,
years before cancer knew it needed
a woman’s touch. But
curiosity kills more than cats: to learn the unknown
one cannot come back from the knowledge.
It eats through a brain, a body, healthy tissue once its ally;
it endures past the flesh. To touch the glass test tube
that would shatter the glass ceiling, a woman’s worth
outlasts the sacrifice—cannot be measured in curies,
disintegrations per minute,
decays per second.