Einstein’s Bathrobe

By Howard Moss 1922–1987 Howard Moss
I wove myself of many delicious strands
Of violet islands and sugar-balls of thread
So faintly green a small white check between
Balanced the field’s wide lawn, a plaid
Gathering in loose folds shaped around him
Those Princeton mornings, slowly stage-lit, when
The dawn took the horizon by surprise
And from the marsh long, crayoned birds
Rose up, ravens, maybe crows, or raw-voiced,
Spiteful grackles with their clothespin legs,
Black-winged gossips rising out of mud
And clattering into sleep. They woke my master
While, in the dark, I waited, knowing
Sooner or later he’d reach for me
And, half asleep, wriggle into my arms.
Then it seemed a moonish, oblique light
Would gradually illuminate the room,
The world turn on its axis at a different slant,
The furniture a shipwreck, the floor askew,
And, in old slippers, he’d bumble down the stairs.
Genius is human and wants its coffee hot—
I remember mornings when he’d sit
For hours at breakfast, dawdling over notes,
Juice and toast at hand, the world awake
To spring, the smell of honeysuckle
Filling the kitchen. A silent man,
Silence became him most. How gently
He softened the edges of a guessed-at impact
So no one would keel over from the blow—
A blow like soft snow falling on a lamb.
He’d fly down from the heights to tie his shoes
And cross the seas to get a glass of milk,
Bismarck with a harp, who’d doff his hat
(As if he ever wore one!) and softly land
On nimble feet so not to startle. He walked
In grandeur much too visible to be seen—
And how many versions crawled out of the Press!
A small pre-Raphaelite with too much hair;
A Frankenstein of test tubes; a “refugee”—
A shaman full of secrets who could touch
Physics with a wand and body forth
The universe’s baby wrapped in stars.
From signs Phoenicians scratched into the sand
With sticks he drew the contraries of space:
Whirlwind Nothing and Volume in its rage
Of matter racing to undermine itself,
And when the planets sang, why, he sang back
The lieder black holes secretly adore.

At tea at Mercer Street every afternoon
His manners went beyond civility,
Kindness not having anything to learn;
I was completely charmed. And fooled.
What a false view of the universe I had!
The horsehair sofa, the sagging chairs,
A fire roaring behind the firesecreen—
Imagine thinking Princeton was the world!
Yet I wore prescience like a second skin:
When Greenwich and Palomar saw eye to eye,
Time and space having found their rabbi,
I felt the dawn’s black augurs gather force,
As if I knew in the New Jersey night
The downcast sky that was to clamp on Europe,
That Asia had its future in my pocket.

Howard Moss, “Einstein's Bathrobe” from New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1985 by Howard Moss. Reprinted by permission of Estate of Howard Moss.

Source: New Selected Poems (Atheneum Publishers, 1985)

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Poet Howard Moss 1922–1987

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue, Free Verse

 Howard  Moss


Howard Moss was the poetry editor of the New Yorker for almost forty years. In that influential capacity, this quiet, unassuming man was one of the key figures in American letters in the late twentieth century, boosting the careers of many young poets by publishing their work in one of the few mass circulation magazines which bought poetry and paid well for it. Writing in World Literature Today, Ashley Brown observed that "it . . .

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SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Sciences, Social Commentaries, History & Politics, War & Conflict

Poetic Terms Dramatic Monologue, Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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