Einstein understood that time was relative,
but on this freezing January morning
his walk along the tree lined street
was as long and slow as it ever was.
Under typical conditions, the start
of this walk would trigger his mind
into an interior space where his thoughts
became the voice of God and he controlled
the motion of stars and light photons—
but snow had fallen two nights before,
melted for an afternoon, then re-froze
into an uneven, crunching white path.
The journey to the Institute would take
more than half an hour of treacherous,
careful stepping, and the only thing
he could think about was the Germans.
Precisely a year ago, news and photos
were released that showed the camps.
Skeletons taut with skin. Haunted
eyes. Those dirty striped uniforms.
Piles of gaunt, white bodies in front
of buildings with ovens. They were
his people. Jews. It was why he had
abandoned his homeland to come here
to this frozen town among the pastures.
His breath drifted like pipe smoke.
When he breathed in, his lips chilled.
The chill had settled inside his overcoat
and into his body. Even with his gloved
hands pressed into his pockets, a black
knit hat pulled down over his ears,
a scarf wrapped around his neck,
he was still cold—and to think
those prisoners at Auschwitz had stood
in this same kind of cold a year ago,
waiting to see if the Germans would
return after fleeing with their papers
and stolen possessions in those damned
Nazi sedans, chilled in their tattered prison
uniforms, many without shoes on their feet.
How could he even think about field theory
when they could only think about a piece
of bread that wasn’t too big so that they
would vomit it after swallowing? And now
his friend—a German—wanted him to sign
a plea to take it easy on the Germans.
He would not only refuse to sign it, he would
do all that he could to ensure the opposite:
that their industrial economy stayed ruined
for years. They had shown no guilt or remorse
after being caught. They would only create another
factory of death. How could there be any doubt?
His breath plumed now as if he were running.
The chill only grew worse, the air more bitter.
John Struloeff’s debut poetry collection, The Man I Was Supposed to Be, was published by Loom Press in 2008, with individual poems in Atlantic Monthly, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, PN Review, and elsewhere. His awards include a Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University, an NEA Literature Fellowship, a Sozopol Seminars Fiction Fellowship from the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation (Bulgaria), and both the Weldon Kees and Tennessee Williams Scholarships. He directs the creative writing program at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.