Friday, January 27, 2012

Albert Einstein At The Soup Kitchen, Phillip Terman

ALBERT EINSTEIN AT THE SOUP KITCHEN     
 Phillip Terman

Do I look like anyone?, he asks,

as he swoops he long spoon into the peas,
lifts it a few inches
and holds it steady to pour
onto the tray of the next famished mouth,
shouts to George for more
as his supply empties down.

I’m the bread and donut man
in this assembly line of volunteers
who gather for our three hour
of weekly service and socialism:

Jose the finger-pointing Filipino
who pours the punch and repeats:
The wages of sin is death
and only reads Paradise from the Comedy,

for his description of heaven, he says, and light;

Jake the Buddhist, who scrapes the dishes
as they are returned, saves whatever
appears untouched for someone else’s

insatiable hunger;
            Sal, who tells me he was on the other side
of the line, meaning he was one of the thousand
who form every morning single-file around this Church
of the Apostles, up 9th Avenue and around

28th Street,
            like the snake, he chants,
looking out the window beyond Crack Park,

cursed above the beasts of the city
to eat dust all the days of its life.

And their eyes are filled with dust,
            drugged and sleepy,
bodies stiff from sidewalk cardboard sofas.

The peaman, it turns out, looks like Albert Einstein,
the shaggy white hair and white mustache,
pronounced nose and dark sad eyes.

I’m an actor, he explains.  They pay me to look like the genius.

He shows me his card:  e=mc squared:
Equity equals many characters,

and I’m honored to be near even the resemblance of the man—
not because I understand relativity
and the contradicting theories of light,

but because of how steady he is with a spoon,
filling each helping to the brim,
as if each portion should be equal

and abundant.
--------------
About "Albert Einstein At The Soup Kitchen," Phillip Terman writes
This poem was written in response to my experience volunteering at the Church of the Holy Apostles in New York.  The person beside me really did look like Albert Einstein, and the story is true. I was struck by how this volunteer who actually portrayed Einstein in commercials, really reflected the genius's  humanitarian side, and how that seemed to me at the time more essential than his scientific achievements. 


from The House of Sages (Mammoth Books, 2005)

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