Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ludwig Boltzmann's Steak Tartar

That Will Be That: Ludwig Boltzmann’s Last Meal, September 4, 1906, Duino, Italy

Ludwig stares at the wooden platter in despair.
On it, with utmost care, has been arranged steak tartar —
several small dishes of condiments surrounding
a rounded heap of raw minced beef into which
a single egg yolk has been dropped.

It’s a treat from his wife, who’s thought to combat
his dour mood of late with a dish from the Old Country
that he used to love. They are at the Hotel Plas,
on the Adriatic coast, for a spot of R & R
to shore up his unstable state of mind
before the lectures he’s due to give.

But all Ludwig can see are his brains,
the yellow egg throbbing at the center
like the restless nucleus of an atom,
more dense than he can imagine,
more, even than the rye bread
his wife is breaking apart with her bare hands.

She points to the anchovies, the salt, the capers,
but he’s imagining they’re electrons, protons, neutrons, entropy,
the Second Law of thermodynamics and statistical mechanics.
He’s watching his daughter Elsa scoop up some meat,
dip it in parsley and eat, oblivious to the fact
that while there’s less on the platter, it’s not really gone.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” a therapist once told him,
but the small stuff is his life’s work,
something his colleagues don’t even believe exists.
He dips his fingers in and chews it over: tomorrow,
when his wife and daughter go for a swim,
he’ll hang himself, and that will be that.

The Cooking of Germany, Time-Life Books, 1969

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