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At the Nursing Home, My Mother Is Served Traif

By Philip Terman

The attendant places a plate of sweet potato and ham in front of my mother, who all her life has kept kosher, who has separated the dairy from the meat, the dishes in separate cupboards, the silverware in opposite drawers, all of her life she followed the letter of the law as far as she was able, lit the candles as commanded, braided the bread for the Sabbath, fasted for atonement, each waking and rising, in honor of her parents, in accordance to God’s wishes, the words she memorized, the gestures she inherited and passed on— and what is the culmination of this devotion? 

Earlier, in her box-shaped room, the sun streaming behind her, white hairstrewn across her gaunt face, she grabbed my arms and implored: I’m dead.  Shaking from an unseen wind.  You won’t forget me? Don’t forget me, papa. She was my daughter, I the one who set her forth into where we suddenly found ourselves – our names dissolving, our relation – mother and child, one body separate and drifting, the way she drifts now from the plate set down before her, her eyes shifting up, then side to side, as if from something unrecognizable.

Philip Terman is author of three books of poetry, The House of Sages, Book of the Unbroken Days,  and Rabbis of the Air.   Recent poems and essays have appeared in such journals as The Gettysburg Review, Poetry, and Blood to Remember:  Poets Respond to the Holocaust. He teaches English at Clarion University, and co-directs the Chautauqua Writers' Festival.


photo by Dinty W. Moore