My mother took a moral stand against it,
said television was the work of the devil,
said my father’s wanting it showed how
weak he really was. But, for once, he stood
firm. It was a blond GE with a twelve-inch
screen — a blond whore my mother couldn’t
have hated more. After supper, we sat on the sofa
in the dark, my mother wedged in the middle,
hands over her ears, back straight, her worn
leather Bible on her lap. My father switched it on.
Roller derby came at us like a train on fire,
women on skates trying to kill one another —
knees to the midsection, elbows to the neck,
hair pulling, eye gouging. Suddenly my mother
leaned forward and yelled, “Kill her. Oh, kill her.
Hit her in the mouth.” She jabbed us with her elbows,
moved to the edge of the sofa. Her Bible lay splayed
at her feet like an injured player. During a commercial
she read aloud from John 12:46: I am come a light
into the world, that whosoever believeth on me
should not abide in darkness. “Amen,” she said, as the men
took the track. She marked her place with a finger,
sat forward again and yelled, “Kill him, kick him.
That’s it. Oh, hurt him.” My father excused himself
to get a glass of water. I sat on the floor to escape
her sharp elbow. And, years later, this is the way
I remember her: alone, agitated, the empty space
around her expanding, the wild, festering pleasure
she took in wrestling, boxing, and roller derby, that Bible
always within reach, proof to all that a better place awaited her.
Dan Gilmore dropped out of high school at age 16 and worked as a professional drummer and bassist. Still illiterate at age 18, he took remedial classes, entered college, and eventually did postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley. Gilmore became chairman of the psychology department at Central University of Iowa, after which he was instrumental in founding Thomas Jefferson College, a grade-free innovative program that became a model for other such programs across the United States. His first novel, A Howl for Mayflower, was published in 2006. “First TV” is from his collection Love Takes a Bow: New and Selected Poems, published by Imago Press and used with permission.