Talking on the phone


The Last Black and White TV
Collected in: The Ghosts of You and Me


Were your parents, or you yourself
among those children who left their primitive
games of giant steps and hopscotch to gather
like stunned pygmies before cowboys
and puppets moving in the light of the first


black and white TVs, square bulbs so heavy
it took two men to deliver them? As night
came on in suburban neighborhoods
perhaps like yours, families unfolded
the legs of dinner trays, longing
to be in the studio audience with the host
of the variety show, or in the white kitchen
with the mother and her children as the father
arrived at the right moment in his dark suit
with the knowledge the rest of them craved


“It needs more contrast,” someone would say,
adjusting a knob until the vegetable slicer
they saw between programs or the black and white
shoes or the kitchen range with the glow-clock
in the changing world behind the glass


looked real, then bought the slicer, the shoes,
the kitchen range and even the new TV


that their old TV said would make them feel
like they were there. This was how the first
black and white TVs made their way


to the homes of the poor, who loved them best,
turning from disappointment all day long
to watch people opening the doors of ranges
and cars, or men with easy-going smiles
give them away on game shows. When they kicked


their sets or pounded them, it was mostly
because the picture was starting to roll
and ruin the happy ending they were so anxious
to see. The last black and white TV might have been
one of these, its console scarred by fists,


flipping scenes of game show contestants
and sheriffs bringing justice to Americans long ago
in the West up out of sight again and again.
Or it may have been the set that played itself to death
above the heads of old folks at the nursing home


in the suburbs, grown sick of wonder and desire.
Or perhaps it stares by the old color set into the dust
of your own attic among things you once discovered
on the screen and would hardly imagine longing for,
they are so strange, so useless, and so still.



Photograph: Tires and Television in Abandoned Barn, Lyman, Maine