April 07

The Exile and The Shank: Two Poems by Philip Terman
by Philip Terman
p. 2 of 2

The Shank Bone

Our dog swipes the shank bone from the sedar plate,
shakes her muzzle from side to side, takes off
through Elijah’s door: this roasted symbol of the sacrificial

lamb we offered in the Temple to remember our exile
and commemorate our liberation now clenched
in the jaws of this overgrown golden retriever puppy,

this what-we-call-in-Hebrew zeroah, meaning “arm,”
meaning how our God outstretched his enormous arm
to help his people in our times of aggravation, what

we’re undergoing now, the guests arrived, the table
set with plates and wine glasses, Haggadahs and candles,
bowl of salt water, bowl of roasted eggs, the charosete

our laborious mortar—chopped and set beside the bitter
herbs, what we will mix in with our dog’s Alpo once
we can coerce her to give it up, but she’s clamping

and sloshing it around her drenched tongue as if
this were the last bone on earth, as if she understood
that this was from the original lamb our High Priest chose

when we all put down our weapons and tools to gather
and witness this primordial offering: to assuage our guilt,
to accommodate our primitive desires, to draw nearer

to the source, our surrendering—before the destruction
and therefore absence of our assigned place
so the scholars say we can sacrifice nowhere

until the source returns and now my five-year-old daughter
has tackled our dog in the yard and pulls hard at the bone,
all of our guests approaching closer in mesmerized silence.



Philip Terman is the author of the poetry collection The House of Sages and Book of the Unbroken Days. His poems and essays have appeared in a number of journals, including The Kenyon Review, Poetry, The New England Review, The Gettysburg Review, North American Review, and Tikkun. He teaches creative writing and literature at Clarion University, where he also directs the visiting writers series and advises the literary journal, Tobeco. Additionally he co-directs the new literary festival at the Chautauqua Institute.

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