The greatest evil is when you forget that you are the son of a king.
—Martin Buber, Tales of Hasidism
Yet, aren’t I the son of Joe Terman, used car salesman?
And wasn’t he the son of Abraham Terman, carpenter,
until injured by a salami truck, or was it a cable car,
on Cedar Hill in Cleveland Heights, Ohio?
And wasn’t he the son of—whom?
And how far back do we search for our royalty?
Because my father was not robed but robbed,
and shot in the lower intestine, and pistol whipped.
And if he were a king,
would he have lain on the couch all day,
after they raised the rent, and wept?
And if he were a king, would he have taken
that suited stranger’s advice and got himself
some advertising? “Get yourself some advertising,”
he told my father. “Ain’t no one gonna know you’re here.”
“I’ll think about it,” my father replied,
and showed him the door.
Joe Terman, if you weren’t a king, perhaps
you were one of the thirty-six wise peasants,
concealing, behind your sweater and plaid pants, your esoterica.
Perhaps, between customers, you were studying
Kabbala and the Zohar in secret.
Did you, in the bathroom where the body man stored his Playboys,
don your tefillin and yarmulke and sway to the psalms?
In your filing cabinets, where the titles of cars
were kept, just there, did you house your Talmud?
Now that your life has completed itself, Joe
Terman, measured its time and distance,
sung its chapter and verse, and we can look up
every moment of those sixty-seven years,
will we uncover your scepter and crown?
Examining in the minutest detail your errors and triumphs,
will the ornaments of your authority be revealed?
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.