Taije Silverman is the author of Houses Are Fields (Louisiana State University Press, 2009). Her more recent poems have been in journals including Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, and Agni, and they have been selected for the Best American Poetry series (2016 and 2017) and the Pushcart Prize Anthology (2016). While in residence at MacDowell, she translated the Italian verse of Giovanni Pascoli, work that culminated in The Selected Poems of Giovanni Pascoli, published by Princeton University Press in fall 2019.
The Poem About Chuck E. Cheese a Friend Posted on Facebook
was not about the Chuck E. Cheese across the parking lot
from Target where we celebrated my son's fifth birthday
yesterday, though the poem was “a fucking masterpiece”
according to the friend who posted it and who,
as it happens, is an expert on masterpieces, having
trained to decipher love letters, poems, and sacred
decrees that for nine hundred years have been stuffed
in a synagogue’s attic in Cairo because they contain
the word god, or g-d, as my Orthodox student
wrote in her sestina about last week's dismantling
of an illegal Israeli settlement. My son’s birthday party
was not celebrated in the attic of a synagogue
but at what the poem on Facebook describes as
“the diabolical vampire of our transcendent ideals."
What I know about transcendent ideals wouldn’t fill
one of the rubber finger puppets you can choose
from the cheaper prizes but rather it starts and ends
with the sound of my son’s voice in the bathroom
of Chuck E. Cheese as he lovingly whispers to no one
while peeing, I wish my home was here. Wistful as faraway kites,
or as mist near an island. My son turned five on the fifth
anniversary of the death of a boy who had gone out
to buy skittles. "White people," instructed black people on Facebook
while a table of five-year-olds in rat hats waited for a band
of animatronic rodents to play Happy Birthday to my son,
"Say something about him." That he went to aviation camp
and liked math more than English, that he had
this lit jewel of a face. Can you see someone when they’re dead,
my son asked last week, and also if police would take his bunny
from our car when we went to the bakery. What do police DO,
he wants to know. Our lies are a ball gown in layers of tulle
made for posing on carpets the color of state your name here
and explain why you came to this country. They pull people over,
answered Sammy from my son’s class while we drove home
from the party and then added, They don’t like when you call them
the po po. This Chuck E. Cheese is better than the scary Chuck E. Cheese,
he said, and I asked what happened at the scary one.
They ... bit a human there, he said, and then: a real human.
They bit a human there? I asked. A person ... he said, a people ...
They cut off the head of a ... someone who is real.
Last night the news praised one journalist as "a hero
for democracy," and since I am on a mad and intermittent hunt
for heroes of democracy, I looked him up and found a photo
of his head placed on his torso in the desert. A real ... people.
From the attic of a synagogue in the old part of Cairo,
my friend studies day wages, grocery lists, oaths,
and a twelfth century rabbi’s banned Guide for the Perplexed.
No one’s head has ever been cut off at Chuck E. Cheese,
Sammy, I promise you, I told him, but the word for forgiveness
in Byzantine Hebrew shares roots, wrote the rabbi
on chalk-whitened goat skin, with the Arabic word for impossible.
My brother told me, replied Sammy. He said it’s true.
Taije Silverman worked in the Sorosis studio.
Sorosis Studio was funded by the New York Carol Club of Sorosis. The small, masonry studio was designed by F. Winsor, Jr., the architect who also designed Savidge Library (1926) and Mixter Studio (1927). At the time of construction, the large porch on the southeast facade offered a spectacular mountain view that has since been obscured…