Edited by Dava Sobel

Optimization under uncertainty
is a field of study in which my grown son
will earn his Ph.D. The math, in his case,
concerns the production of wind energy.

He reads his papers aloud on the phone to me
as a way to optimize their clarity,
so that even a layperson, such as myself,
can understand what he’s saying,
in between each beautifully made
equation and graph.

For me, it’s a matter of optimizing
my time with him, my only child, who lives
so far away and does not get along
with the man I married. I’m looking for
the algorithm that can minimize
the pain entailed for all of us
in this awful situation.

One needs to account for the inconstancy
of the wind’s strength and direction,
and how best to cant the rotors’ turning blades,
and how the power produced is affected
by the wakes created when lots of turbines
are working in concert together.

We stay on the phone for hours sometimes
while I fill my sails with the sweet sounds
of my son’s voice, filled with longing
to hold him close again.

I admire the choice he’s made to apply his gifts
in ways that can make the world a better place,
even though uncertainty is omnipresent,
and must be factored in
to every calculation.