Learning to Hear
When he was young, perhaps about ten,
Saturday mornings were reading events
in his Dad's big bed, smelling of sweat and tobacco
and well-oiled leather from the old inlaid headboard.
Sliding into the warm sheets, cuddling the old man,
cigarette with long ash, chest hairs singed
in dusty half-moon from the ones that gravity owned,
the pungent aroma of coffee—always that—
and the cigarette smoke and his Dad's barrel chest.
The boy would carefully place ear and cheek
tight to the bare left chest (keeping his nose
away from the singed hairs) and the old man
would let the magic begin—it seemed to come
from that great rumbling barrel not as words
but as flowing rhythm, a drum, a river. . .
Kipling, always Kipling Mowgli among the wolves
Baloo and his wise counsel Baghera the sleek
protector Sher-khan the evil one, then the
Elephant's Child earning his trunk and just
so many rumbled tales, then Kim then Stevenson
Pip and Mr. Dick and the swaggering pirates
on their shrouded islands, veiled in the magic of
breathing and rhythm and sound.
No words, the boy heard no words.
The magic of those wondrous tales
was transferred whole, absorbed through
the translucent skin of his imagination,
rumbled through the bones and hollows
of his Dad's barrel chest direct to the boy's
blood, his senses rapt and seduced and knowing.
On those gentle mornings, they never spoke
about the tales and unfolding worlds that never were.
After an hour, sometimes two, once three,
the mystery that sounded between them
would simply stop. Then the boy would leave
the warmth of the sheets to stoke coal or
feed dogs or chip ice
off the frozen water barrel
on the back porch..
© clark cook