The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


David Prather

Einstein in the Afterlife


The Apparent Incompatibility of the Law of Propagation of Light
with the Principle of Relativity

Marilyn Monroe stares at him all day, her white dress billowing up as in a movie poster,
a gang of electromagnetic entities gathered around the hem, all of them charged
with the task of blowing up a wind to keep this all too human
cloth from touching her bare skin.

Or, at least, that’s the theory. Einstein’s brilliance troubles him,
every so-called angel buzzing around his shocking white hair, every dead thinker
plaguing him with stupid questions about space and time. He tells them
it’s all relative, which seems to satisfy them for a while. But not Marilyn.

She’s always there, and she never says a word. She just admires his glowing
pate. Some would say moth. Some would say flame.
And he accepts this inextricable partner as he boards his theoretical train,
always racing light; though now he is light, and he hasn’t figured out

how to slow down, how to collect the emanating rays. Instead,
he emits light, just as Marilyn emits her own luminescence. There she stands,
in the corner of the passenger car, ignoring the swarm
attracted to the pleats in her dress, her curving cleavage, her lips

pursed for the most innocent kiss.
The conductor marches through the car, but he looks
nothing like the human self he left behind. He takes Einstein’s ticket, and Marilyn’s.
But he tosses everyone else off. And finally they are alone

on the train, this train that only travels a straight line in a vacuum.
Who knows where they are going. They travel so quickly
that even the blurred view of the embankment through the window
is indefinable.

On the Idea of Time in Physics

No one can quite figure out where we are,

though we see lightning as it strikes the tracks

before us and behind us.

It strikes both places at the same time.

Except that Einstein has taken to forgetting his watch at his place of origin,

wherever that may be.

And we spectators…or should I say


glance at our wrists where we, too, discover that time

is lost.

We have no measurement, no yardstick or tape measure, no hand height or foot length

to check our observations.

Does lightning dance the rails at two points at the same time?

Einstein glances at us from his train as it speeds past. And he looks lonely

―intelligent and lonely. He blinds us

with his brilliance.

Then we stumble onto the tracks hoping

to find our way home; and, sightless, light explodes upon us and lifts us two at a time

away from the gravity that we make in this world.

The Relativity of Simultaneity

Inside the train,

Einstein and Marilyn fix their gazes.

She watches his withered hands lift the paper

cup filled with coffee

to his lips under that full gray mustache he kept from his last life. She sees

particles of light approach him,

a loving gesture, before they spin off toward illumination. He unfolds

a centuries-old newspaper, and she senses the word-

encrusted fibers as though

her skin were on fire and floating off,

pieces of smoldering ash upon updrafts and a rogue wind. Halfway down the line

she notices that

despite all his mundane actions, Einstein has been looking out the window. People

struck dumb by his nuclear glow

stumble over their oddly-formed afterlife feet, fall to

their diaphanous hands and knees

as though they’ve seen the forbidden appearance of a god. Then, lightning.

Marilyn admires the notebook Einstein unburdens from his pocket

to write his computations, bits of lint

still clinging to the ragged edges. He will write something

about rushing toward one light while fleeing another,

and that, for him, time made all the difference. For him

nothing is ever the same.

On the Relativity of the Conception of Distance

Letter from a fellow passenger

I am afraid
that I am too dim

to understand you,
my dear friend.

Ten cars away from you, even
at this velocity, is still

ten cars away from you.
I didn’t even know you were on the train until

I received your note,
something about distance and time,

moving objects,
stationary objects.

How can I respond but to say you’re right?
That your letter covered less distance on its trip back to me,

but that my letter will travel so much farther
moving forward in a forward-moving train.

I don’t know. I think
I’ve got it all wrong, but I love that

you allow me the opportunity to be wrong. If I do not
press forward

and you do not fall back
so that we meet at some midpoint,

perhaps we shall never meet. And traveling, as we are,
at the speed of light, I’m not sure I wish to tempt

the oblong Fates, the trapezoidal Destinies,
the rhomboid Wonders of the Universe.

Leave that to the gypsies.
They are here, you know, though

they usually prefer to camp near supernova stars
or somewhere near the rim of other galactic events.

And even though we died
for understanding,

nothing is clearer.
How much farther must we go?

The Possibility of a “Finite” and yet “Unbounded” Universe

Descartes was wrong. Thinking refutes

anything but fantasy or dream,

Imagination. Though I am not imaginary.

Who am I? Just an observer standing on a dirt road

Page 7 / Einstein in the Afterlife

somewhere in the middle of the country waiting for a train.

I wait for a train that will shuttle me around the cosmos, which

is probably elliptical,

curved in some places like a scimitar, curved elsewhere

like a paperclip. This means

the universe is a trap. We can’t escape. There is no heaven,

at least not one that ignores the contortions of our lives,

fishbowl physics

ruling the universe. But that’s not so bad. Even on the surface

we could spend forever

hunting and pecking at the stars.

Even if we never get out there among all those stars, limited to our solar system,

we could suck the milk of eternity

from just these planets. Even if another comet never approached

our pinpoint home in the galaxy, we could flesh

our bodies with stellar dust.

Even if we lived forever, if we inescapably evolved

toward infinity,

someone would look at the sun and be unhappy. Someone would think this

all unreal. And somewhere,

right now, someone discusses Einstein, though he is dead,

a spark of light speeding over our shoulders.

Here he is now, in the sunshine,

sifting pebbles where I stand.

The Structure of Space according to the General Theory of Relativity

The universe expands.

                                   Don’t be fooled.

But don’t kid yourself,

                                   it is not uniform.

It’s a little random, like us.

                                   Who am I to tell you this? I don’t know;

it’s not like me to push the broken laws of existence upon anyone.

                                   Yet here I am, pushing all of this

onto you. And who are you?

                                   You could be anyone, or anything

even light.

                                   Suppose you board a train

somewhere near this spiral galaxy’s edge.

                                   Suppose I am already on that train,

and that the train is large enough

                                   to accommodate even the galaxy, an entire universe

filled with galaxies; and suppose

                                   everyone eventually rides this train toward enlightenment.

How heavy-handed that would be…don’t you think?

                                   And every car rumbles its finite way along the tracks,

every space unbounded

                                   so that we may never find one another…

every car, that is, but one,

                                   where Einstein and Marilyn absorb each other.

No. No. They admire each other―

                                   the thinker and the bombshell―

as though they helped to create each other.

                                   And if we are patient, you and I, we will sense

a little bit of Einstein in our impossibly translucent thoughts.

                                   And we will fall in love. And we will kiss

an intelligent kiss.

                                   And we will smell like energy

recently transformed.

                                   And no matter our restrictions,

we will know no bounds.




DAVID B. PRATHER received his MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. His poetry has appeared in many journals, including Colorado Review, Seneca Review, Prairie Schooner, The Literary Review, American Literary Review, Poet Lore, South Florida Poetry Journal, Kestrel, ONTHEBUS, and others. His work was also selected for one of Naomi Shihab Nye's anthologies, "what have you lost?" Currently, David spends his time as an actor and a director at the Actors Guild of Parkersburg in Parkersburg, WV.



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