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 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.