Letter to America: Poem by Philip Terman

Letter to America by Philip Terman

One Poem

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Dear America: To My Friend in Aleppo

Dear America: try this hour on for size:
the spear-shaped tomato leaves
reaching out into the sunlight, the yellow

primroses glistening at the far side
of the garden, the oriole defying
anti-immigrant laws soaring back

and forth between properties and
your hunger—for what?—all this
and more of all this, more of this

late spring-into-summer morning
and I wish I could bring it all to you, Saleh,
where you are, where the bombs

explode the buildings and hearts
to needle-edged fragments,
where the absurd horrifies the air—

all this beauty, all this serenity, this
life I happen—who knows how or why—
to be living, the accident of birth

and circumstance, this chaotic explosion
that sent me here and you there and
did your god and did my god sit down

and negotiate the terms of this destiny?
Here, the oriole lights out
of the sweetgum. There,

what birds can you be hearing through
the buzzing helicopters and the whipping
planes and the rubble and the screams

and the screams and the screams?
Here wings flapping. Here a soft breeze
ruffles my hair. A distant

dove’s five-note song of mourning.
I wanted to write another pastoral
American poem about the jewel’s glistening

precision of this moment, the dew-
laden grass, the light-blue sky,
the shadows stretched across the garden.

And you had to arrive with your complaints
about how there’s been no electricity
for three weeks and about the car bomb

outside your flat and about the fanatics
taking over your university and about
how your brother’s shoes were stolen.

On this one morning when if one sits
calmly and listens hard one can observe
the exact moment when spring turns

into summer, here you are again,
writing to me in your broken English,
about how you can’t leave

because your son is still missing.
And about the oriole that just returned
to the sweetgum I don’t tell you.




Philip TermanPhilip Terman is the author of five full-length books of and four chapbooks of poetry, most recently Our Portion: New and Selected Poems (Autumn House Press, 2015). A selection of his poems, My Dear Friend Kafka, was translated into Arabic by Saleh Razzouk and published in Damascus, Syria. He teaches at Clarion University and directs the Bridge Literary Arts Center in Franklin, Pennsylvania. On occasion he performs his poetry with the jazz band, the Barkeyville Triangle.

Header photo by Puffin’s Pictures, courtesy Shutterstock.

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