My lessons in listening:
To a mother’s final words—
Always remember I loved you and was proud
Tossed off, too rushed to leave work
To get to the hospital, to see her,
Always thinking of more days, time.
Not thinking all I’d see,
Her dead eyes.
To all my dogs– little tells
Of cocked heads, whines, barks,
The ways of wagging tails,
To know what meant what–
Hunger, pain, desire to play,
A need for love or to go outside.
Those I’ve always learned well.
To students, the teens I taught,
A puzzle to figure of pieces and placement
What each meant for each—
The lift of a shoulder, how the eyes met or did not meet mine,
The head upon the desk, the work done or not,
The things said, not said—
To figure needs-
Some basic, some not so,
Requiring other safety nets,
Bruised and broken,
Some I could help repair.
I knew what to listen for,
Almost by instinct,
Since I had not been listened to
When I was one of them.
To my child, a whirlwind of cries,
Hunger, diaper, cold, hot, sick—
Each cry different
A knowing, animal instinct,
Some primal thing beating
Inside knew the way
Of my infant’s need.
When a teen—
A different thing,
A new species of need,
My animal and her animal
Had no common language
Of smells, signals, or cries
In the darkened tunnels
We went through.
To my dying wife, my dying wife—
So hard to listen to, to understand
a language no longer including
My daughter or me.
Never knowing for whom
The last coma spoken words–
I’m sorry, so sorry—
Now, I learn the final lesson of listening,
A lesson sixty years in the learning,
To myself, my own heart, my own soul.