A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
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.