April 07

The Exile and The Shank: Two Poems by Philip Terman

Philip Terman

The Exile

I deliver a box of matzo to the only trailer
with a mezuzah nailed to the doorframe.
She rents from the trucker and his wife, Rhesa,

on her fixed income in Clintonville, PA, county
of Amish and the rural poor, county of non-zoning,
of cars in various states of repair on front lawns

and roaming dobermans, of rusted-out tractors
and burn piles, where the local politicos
always say is a “perfect place for toxic waste,”

backdropped as it is by Interstate 80. Nights,
truckers’ beams crisscross her living room
and she accuses Rhesa of flashlighting

her privacy to catch the poodles she calls
her children at shitting on the carpet.
Weak heart, bi-polar, not-yet-forty, boxes

piled from ceiling to floor her fortification,
stuffed with bargain-basement garage-sale
clothes, books, dishes, tchochkies

she makes her life’s accumulation.
And when the rooms fill up with dust and mold
she moves them with her dogs and medication.

Across the road the Amish farm. Mornings
she watches children in black walk toward
the school their parents built, watches late afternoon

their return. And the perennial black buggy
and the stocky taut work horses, their muscles
shimmering with heat as they furrow their dignity

into the soil, the smallest boy following the father,
shoulders wrapped with the leather straps
of the plow, up and across and down and across

the rows, the sun’s light slanting across the field,
blazing their horizon the color of fire or God’s face
on their daily routine of returning back to the world.

Does she wonder if this is how her great-grandparents,
also orthodox and curiosities, balanced their lives,
bunched together, working their land with their strange rules

and eating habits, their mysterious worship?
This is too far away from any public agency.
On the first of the month when the check arrives

we take her shopping and on Passover
to the synagogue fifty miles away in Butler
where she sits off to the side and her lips move.

And only Elijah can distinguish her voice.

Image: Home Cookin in Brooklyn by Elisa Blynn.
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