I love television. I worked in cable television for 20 years. However this is what my father called our T.V. -- "The Idiot Box." Even so, I'm thinking that perhaps I should name this poem something else perhaps -- "Dirty Dishes" --see why toward the end. What do you think? New section of this long, narrative poem highlighted in bold.
The Idiot Box
My father called it
the Idiot Box
like it was a nickname, or
term of endearment.
I was twelve.
He called me
Toots, a nickname,
a term of endearment.
T.V. was always the Idiot Box.
The Idiot Box:
knobs, broken off,
a pair of pliers plucked the channels.
The Idiot Box:
black and white,
sculpted wire coat hangers
caught the signals.
The Idiot Box:
a Buddha on a woman’s
long dresser, my mother’s dresser,
along the wall in the living room,
bowed to a pair of plaid easy chairs,
and a burnt orange couch.
In front of The Idiot Box:
the bottom of her wheelchair
and was taken away,
a bad puppy,
out of sight.
5, 7, 9 and 11,
the four channels of the Idiot Box.
Don’t think we were far from the City.
We were the ‘Queen of the Sound,’
45 minutes from Broadway,
home of Tom Paine, author of “Common Sense,”
a city founded by Huguenots, who fled
France and religious persecution –
an intersection of past and future,
a T.V. antennae perched precariously
on our roof because who the hell needs
more than four channels of television, anyway?
We could watch, easy,
four or five hours of T.V. every day.
“The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”
Families could be happy
with only a father
if they had a butler;
“The Brady Bunch.”
Fathers and mothers could remarry
if they had even numbers of girls and boys;
Stop! Stop! And look around:
“The Partridge Family.”
Pile us on a bus
and we could be famous, live happy,
if we could only sing.
4:30 movie Godzilla destroyed Japan
4:30 Godzilla destroyed Japan
Godzilla destroyed Japan
Life was arbitrary.
Somehow, we knew that already.
free, not free,
until we’d turned off the T.V.,
and raced outside to greet him,
swore our homework was done,
that we had spent the afternoon
playing in the sun.
I’d fix us supper.
He’d switch on the news.
Soon enough, he’d grunt:
What the hell is up!
I’d shut my ears.
Serve up peas.
Damn Idiot Box.
Pass the meatloaf! Eat your peas!
Children are starving overseas!
What channel are they on? We’d laugh,
My life is a pile of
In our house, a war was always on,
strewn over the evening news, or
my father’s favorite:
“World At War.”
On rainy Sunday afternoons,
he’d pull a plaid chair smack
in front of the Idiot Box.
Only he could do that.
My sister claimed his lap.
My brothers dug at his feet.
I’d climb up on the back,
flung my legs over his shoulders –
sure, we had other places to sit, the other plaid chair,
the orange couch, but nobody ventured there.
The Siege of Stalingrad,
or the Battle of Britain
unfolded on newsreel after newsreel,
the Idiot Box, suddenly wise.
This was worth seeing, he’d instruct us,
suddenly the all-knowing father.
Pay attention. Learn
We had seen it before,
but maybe this time,
Russia or Britain, or us,
would stop fighting the Nazis,
even though my father claimed
that we shall go on to the end….
we shall never surrender.
But what if they did? and what if we did?
And what if the Nazis storm New Rochelle?
And take us?
Or our father,
like our mother?
We clung to one another.
Stay tuned! More soon! Truly, the author of LIE
the critically-acclaimed young adult novel --about
the murder of an innocent young man of color--
-- from St. Martin's Press.