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— Were spoken.
Now, I learn the final lesson of listening, A lesson sixty years in the learning,
I dream of dancing– Intricacies of Argentina, Ebb and flow– Grace of Vienna, Lift and swirl Through shifting scenarios.
I wake. Dancing ends. Truly, I did dance once. So many years ago. Steps, lifts, patterns Long forgotten. I tried and tried to learn That Texas Two Step. Quick, quick, slow, slow— They said. But some inject a little extra step, A tiny pause here or there. I stand accused of trying to lead When I should have followed. My pointy boots, often in the way, Did nothing to protect my feet. And if you must know, This last try crushed My instep and toes. I’ve just started to walk again. So dancing, my friend?
I believe my dancing days are at an end. So, do not ask me to try again When I stumble and fall Just walking and talking. Dancing, a longed-for energy, I no longer possess.
I may want, I may dream. But I cannot chance The crushing of another’s feet In my bumbling, stumbling attempts– To dance once again The passionate closed embrace Caricias and lustrada footwork Of Argentina, Or the sweeping flow Of canter time pivot turns And fleckerls and contra check in the grace of Vienna. So, no tango, no waltz. And this old dog Has proven she is just too old To learn any new tricks Of dancing. Let this old dog sleep And dream And remember What once it was like To dance With such Passionate, graceful Abandon.
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