Einstein: the world’s wild-haired darling, the genius clown
wobbling in the rain on his bicycle, his raincoat billowing, a charcoal sail.
We all loved him, love him still, but not like you did;
it was you who stroked that cloud of electric hair, strange and wild like a windblown tree; your eyes who held his own,
heavy with memory, their creases holding sad secrets
Mileva, your mind, too, was strung with brilliant lights
your footsteps light and confident
the girl who threw down her embroidery
and took up physics, the molecules spinning their own bright cloth
What was it like then, the only girl in that temple of science, the
best minds in all of Switzerland, maybe in all of Europe?
Oh Mileva those letters he wrote you, tell me what you think of this theory?
and amidst the scribbled numbers and equations, arrows arcing the page
were circled endearments, the carbon smudged with his trembling finger–
he loved you Leva, the scientist, the woman.
That day in 1902: a hot white morning when you told him of the child.
The atoms stopped their spinning, leaned in to listen close
to learn of their own folding away, how he promised to forsake even them
for you, for the daughter quick inside your belly. You said no.
Albert, you said, don’t throw away your talent.
The girl, Lieserl, born in the new year, was taken by nuns to city parents
who promised picture books and pony rides, hot chocolate in porcelain cups
who braided her pale frizzled hair so tightly her ears ached.
You and Albert married; there were sons. He rose, dazzling the world
yet with a strange earthy sadness like Chaplin’s little tramp
while his theories exploded under shattering bits of chalk
you grew quiet, your bowed head shadowing your lap.
He still brought you his papers, although not as often
he explained the qualities of energy behind your back
as you stirred pots of soup, buttoned the smallest one’s sweater
you said, yes, yes while you thought of her, eleven years old that month.
In the fluorescent auditorium, Albert’s soft voice fanned out through loudspeakers.
Relativity, he said. The room thundered with the striking of hands
as you whispered the word: Relativity.
You closed your eyes and saw her, standing between two strangers,
she was moving her lips, saying “This is my mother. This is my father.”
The people were all on their feet then, Albert nodding and beaming,
gesturing with his hands while you went to stand by him, tear streaked.
You wept into his collar, “She’s gone forever, Lieserl, our little star.”
In the end you grew too dark Mileva, a storm raging around him
the hole inside you echoing mama, her voice louder at times than even the boys’
pulling at your skirt, their high voices sternly telling you
Smile mother, for the newspaper people. You couldn’t smile.
Albert, tired of nudging the edges of your mouth upward,
took his fingers away, slipped away from your home.
Photos from LIFE magazine, the New York Times, they loved his ragged form
you clipped them out, laid them down tenderly with crumbs of paste
Sat alone at the dusky kitchen table drinking pale green wine
after several hours slipping down onto your knees and gently, gently unbraided the woven rug, smoothing its rippled skeins under your palms.