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 knew how to dance once. Didn’t have to think about the placement of feet, a way back when the movement of elegance and grace, of heat and passion, of fun and joy was all rhythms I could hear and follow, Reveling in the feel Before a shoulder snapped out of joint, Hanging limp at my side, And I unlearned the lessons of dance, Unlearned all the intricacies Of the Argentine, Unlearned the grace Of the Viennese, Unlearned the joy Of doing double time.
Unlearned everything of dance Until I barely remembered I once knew how to dance.
Then I tried to learn The Texas Two Step And failed and failed and failed Couldn’t feel the steps and glides That looked so easy, so fun And I wondered if I ever had known How to really dance. Maybe once, a long time ago, I could have mastered this, This Texas Two Step dance.
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