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Philip Terman: My Russian-Jewish Grandparents and The Birth Parents of Our Chinese Child Meet at a Café and Discuss My Child’s Future

Schmu-el and Malka and our child’s

Chinese birth parents are sipping tea

at a café somewhere between the Pale

Settlement of Russia and central-rural China.

They speak in signs and gestures, swirling

arms like dancers, shaping fingers into figures,

standing up and swaying, contorting bodies

to emphasize some obscure point, even

employing pauses and long silences to further

the conversation.  The men gesture:

my grandfather’s yarmulke is as black

as I imagine our child’s birth father’s hair.

The women continue to fill their husband’s cups

and stare off into the distance.

The men agree on the major issue:

each will have to sacrifice their darlings,

their children—send them away, across

miles of land and ocean, into a realm further

and more unfamiliar than they could understand

even in their own tongue, a place perhaps

like those faraway and never-never lands

in the stories of each of their childhoods:

palace on a cloud, temple beyond the stars,

Jerusalem or Shangri-la.  It’s better

to think of that strange country this way

than to ponder the potential dangers—

strangers in strange lands, years of forced labor,

the poverty and destitution they themselves

know something about, each in their own way,

these farmers and peddlers, each of them know

dark to dark.  Their gestures are more subtle

and sophisticated now, they even forget

and sometimes break out into their Yiddish

and Mandarin, which sounds as exotic

as a gathering of multicolored birds

singing through the tea’s steam.

The bill, which is grief, arrives.

They agree to split it.

They accompany each other to the gate

that opens out into their separate centuries.

Through unfathomable signs, they gesture to meet again.

Copyright 2016 Philip Terman. From Our Portion: New and Selected Poems by Philip Terman published by Autumn House Press. Reprinted by permission of Autumn House Press.


Philip Terman

3 comments on “Philip Terman: My Russian-Jewish Grandparents and The Birth Parents of Our Chinese Child Meet at a Café and Discuss My Child’s Future

  1. sharondoubiago
    November 9, 2017

    Fine poem Philip Terman. I intend to read it again. I know about such mixes.          From the grandmother of a Palestinian boy, Sharon Doubiago 


    My new book of poetry, Naked to the Earth, 348 pages, cloth, $24.95, is now available from Wild Ocean Press, http://www.wildoceanpress.com.


  2. Saleh razzouk
    November 8, 2017

    Meaningfull and live images. it bridges the gap between past and present spirit. Since past is a sense of being while present is the spirit of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Philip Terman
      November 29, 2017

      Thank you, Saleh!


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