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.
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 by 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 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 son’s sweater.
You said yes, yes, while you thought of her,
eleven years old that month.
In the university auditorium, Albert’s soft voice
fanned out through loudspeakers.
Relativity, he said. The room thundered with the striking of hands
as you whispered, 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,
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’ as they
pulled 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,
and after several hours slipped down
onto your knees
and gently, gently unbraided
the woven rug, smoothing its rippled skeins under your palms.
Originally appeared in A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption, North Atlantic Books, 1999.
Susan Ito is the author of The Mouse Room and co-editor of the literary anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption (North Atlantic Books). Her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Literary Mama, Hip Mama, The Bellevue Literary Review, Catapult and elsewhere. She writes and teaches at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, Mills College, and the MFA Program at Bay Path College.