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.
My hope is Different now, Changed, evolved. Once a verdant green Of fresh, newborn spring. Now evolved into this chilly thing– Brown, dried husks, A few barely clinging To a tree in late autumn. Seems something, someone Sucked the hope out, Fed on it as if it were life’s blood, And I am left drained, a leftover hull Of what once was. But I go on As if all is the same and nothing Is gone. A tree in winter, Hoping enough green Is left to grow, to live in spring.
I had not realized That still I wore the black, The widow’s weeds of anger, These five years hence Your death. Until today, When at your grave, I stood and, in finality, Cast them away.
Now, emerging from the black chrysalis Of my anger, Perching upon the vine, I can spread the wings, Waving them, allowing them to dry.
And you, my wife, are not here. Not under this six feet of earth. You have long flown away, Beyond the things we were and were not, Beyond the languages we spoke and wrote To one another yet could not understand, Beyond the desire of ego and want and need, Beyond the hurts and the pains of life and selfishness To where only truth, love, and real atonement Color a spirit and soul in a prism of flames.
And in my freedom from anger and pain, I wear your vine with my own rose, and I am the Monarch with wings ready to fly.
Through wisps of thin streaming clouds, The last full moon of the decade Looked down on me and seemed to nod. Why? I’m not sure. I thought and tried to puzzle it out. The decade? Perhaps. Did this last full moon wish me To think about this decade?
What ten years can bring: A wife battling ovarian cancer For her life and loosing; Loosing myself along the way And finding me and loosing me All over again; A profession left in disgust For the pleasure of retirement; A daughter nearly lost and then regained. Talk about water swirling slowly down the drain. But it swirls no longer. The ground leveled. The tub fills. I have finally grown into my skin.
I look to the moon again and she seems to nod Once more. From somewhere, I smell a faint Scent of narcissus. Yes, it would be easy. Play the fool once more and return to that place, find beauty and comfort In blue skies And soft grasses by mountain lake, Breathing in the sweet narcissus scent, Pretending for a little while That everything offered was true. But brimstone to my soul would it be. Leave the blue skies, the soft grasses, the mountain lake, The scent of narcissus behind. This I must do or my soul I would lose.
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