Saturday Oct 21

TermanPhillip Philip Terman has published six collections of poetry, including The House of Sages (Mammoth, 1998, 2005) , Book of the Unbroken Days (Mammoth, 2005), Rabbis of the Air (Autumn House, 2007) and The Torah Garden (Autumn House, forthcoming).    His poems and essays have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Poetry Magazine, the Kenyon Review, the Georgia Review, The Sun Magazine, The New England Review, The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and Blood to Remember:  American Poets Respond to the Holocaust. He is a co-director of the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival, Contributing Editor for Poetry at Chautauqua, and teaches creative writing at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
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A History of America
 
 
Uncle Hy fiddles with two remotes—
one for the TV, one for the VCR—
the screen turns to static, then a game show,
then static again, then—he’s still fiddling—
 
the opening scene for Bonanza, September 14, 1961—
and there he is, galloping into town on his horse,
all duded up in wavy black hair and dimples,
dark eyes, striking as Grant and Gable
 
in his Hollywood handsome looks, save
for the elongated nose.  After the war
he hauled boxes of soda pop off a truck.
Nights he ushered downtown
 
where he’d stare at all the enormous stars,
already a little famous in Cain Park productions
in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and at Corky’s
and Lenny’s Delicatessen where he’d arrive
 
fully costumed for the laughs.  He answered Ceceil’s ad
for a Jewish slave and drove out west
in a poor Ford.  There was a clown stint
on a kid show and a lurpy hospital aid bit part
 
on the Joey Bishop Hour and he dated
Jerry Lewis’ secretary.  Now, on the screen,
his horse rides into town, halts,—he swings down
onto the dark road in front of the saloon,
 
tough in silver-buttoned vest, Stetson,
bandana tucked below the chin,
clean face tinged with conniving.  We watch
from his couch in this messy condominium
 
on Fulton Street near Ventura Boulevard.
He’s 83 and leaning, one hand grasping his cane,
eating slowly the Salisbury steak from his meals-
on-wheels-microwave-heated dinner,
 
on the coffee table a stack of affidavits about
the ongoing lawsuit he’s enmeshed in against
his second ex-wife who, he claims, after
he signed over power-of-attorney, took everything—
 
the houses, the money, the son, and remarried,
and now he can’t afford the nursing home
he doesn’t want to move into—he’s approaching
an innocent woman, offering, with a dark grin,
 
to “escort” her, and she declines, politely,
and he comes closer, offers again in a voice
of false charm, and—suddenly, Hoss appears,
stock and solid, white hat, inquires of the woman
 
in his low voice:  “need any help, Ma’am?”
“No, thank-you,” she says with her voice but
“Yes, please,” she says with her eyes, and
Uncle Hy tells Hoss to “butt out,” and swings
 
his fist, and they fall into the dust, struggle,
and Uncle Hy takes out a gun, the camera
zooming in on the young woman’s face,
which twitches when the shot explodes,
 
and we watch Uncle Hy’s body writhing, loosening,
solidifying—the theme song rising, and, his name
not among them, the credits rolling, which,
Uncle Hy blurts out, as if from some horrid afterlife,
 
is when people really turn around and start watching.
 
 
 
Abraham’s Breaking of the Idols
 
 
Abraham’s breaking of the idols is one of my earliest stories,
and I imagined not the act of destruction, but the way
he climbed up on the roof all by himself and looked up at the sky
and imagined how it was all one thing—the stars, his thoughts,
even the pieces of the stone sculptures he smashed, even
his anger at his father for sculpting them, the way I was angry
at my father for the way he’d sip his coffee and lean against
the sink before driving off to the work he hated so that I could
one day grow up and imagine Abraham inventing a religion
that included a father’s obligations for his son.  Now
it’s the Sabbath, another result of that imagined imagining,
and my own child is sifting sand from sand on a summer morning
so indescribably beautiful you can’t help but grieve.
The shadowed wings of a turkey buzzard ascend the oaks and maples.
I heard that tale about Abraham in Sunday school.
I don’t remember the weather—spring or fall—only that
Abraham was just my age, a little frightened of the dark,
hiding from his punishment, but, nevertheless, listening.
 
 

Furnace and Shrine
 
 
Inside the narrow opening we stare up
through hemlock needles at the sky,
a winter blue tinged with late afternoon orange
 
during this, the worst blizzard in the history
of Western Pennsylvania:  work’s off, stores
shut down, even the reliable Interstate closed
 
east of Grove City all the way to the coast,
one hundred and some dead and still counting.
I followed as we trudged knee-deep through snow,
 
still accumulating, to the waterfall, frozen in air
except for what breaks through and rushes between
ice crusts to the Allegheny.  We hiked along the stream,
 
one deliberate boot-step at a time, to what you call
this Mayan monument, dug deep into the hillside, built
from rough stone dressed at the edges, block by block
 
charred by the raw wood extracted like magic
from chestnut and oak that filled this country until
swallowed by the money monsters, or so would claim
 
the neighbors of Christian Myers and Henry Bear,
after they moved in with intentions:  developers,
they called themselves, and the natives turned away
 
their faces, allowed them their bones for soup, ground
down, cooked over.  Before the entrance we kneeled
on our hands and knees and grabbed ahold and slid
 
slipping into the bosh,  the interior, the hearth,
the womb, you chanted, my earth creature,
drawn to tunnels and caves,  you know the secret openings,
 
the chambers where you’d sit  in silence for hours,
snowed in, boiling water on the woodstove to bathe.
You go down underground, to the roots if you have to.
 
We try to stand where they blasted away with pistons and drums
the non-essentials, one layer fuel, one layer ore,
what they called  charges, the way we strip down the dross

and the dirt until  the molten metal oozes and seeps
in fire and exits out the four notches of the soul.
I could tell you the chronicle, how one ton iron required
 
three tons ore, how all the furnaces  combined fifty tons
a week during the halcyon days, the pig metal transported
in flatboats to Pittsburgh, the wages good.
 
I could tell you production and profits, how in the end
they all failed,  abandoned in the panic:
We need the necessary amount of flux, you say,
 
hands smoothing the firebrick, to become fluid.