Now is the time for drowsy tanagers. —E.S.
First I lost the tick of snowflakes hitting glass.
Then the sound of the cat’s tongue running over her fur.
It used to be I could almost hear her tail moving,
The muscles of the back stretching, the yawn going to a different register…
I lost the buzz of the fly, the distant hammer of my neighbor fixing his roof,
The whine of wind in the rafters and the exact words you speak
As you walk away, rooms opening to other rooms, houses full
Of music I’ll never hear as I walk by. The tinny laughter
Of television sitcoms I don’t miss,
Nor bus-farts nor gunshots of the cops
But Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith… missing a few notes
Means losing the whole song, the way all the beads
Fall to the floor when the string breaks.
What I miss most are the sounds you wanted me to hear:
The too-weet, too-weet, of the hungry towhee,
The sisisisphree of the chickadee, the twonk–twonk of the woodpecker
The wawk–wawk of the hungry duck,
The redwing hawk as it cries to its mate,
Your mother singing, and through the years her voice cracking
And shattering and coming to rest inside you.
I do see the flash of the cardinal in the branches,
Even the woodthrush almost invisible in its groundnest of leaves,
The silent song sparrow carrying yarn in its beak
The return of hundreds of crows to our mountain every evening,
For a long time, you thought I didn’t have a hearing problem,
But a listening problem. And damn it, you were right.
So many sounds I ignored when I had the chance to hear them.
Every morning a riot of song. the stars going out, one by one –
I could almost hear them.
Every day our children learning to speak,
Every afternoon leaning into ourselves.
What’s the sound of two hands clapping?
Lost are the double entendre of the bed squeaking at night,
The slant rhyme of wind in the trees,
The anapest of crickets. Basso profundo of the bullfrog.
All that remains is the bright light on the snow
And the wind moving the last leaves on the poplar.
Soon comes silence, first the small silence of the deaf,
Then the Big Silence growing from a spot of darkness
Becoming a shadow under a tree and finally night, starless and forever.
Perhaps as my hearing fades, my listening will improve,
So every sound will call us home
Like our mothers in the evening,
Every fear becomes a sound like
Echoes in the pool hall —
Perhaps I will hear Chopin as I take off your bra.
Remember when we were first married,
How we loved being lonely together,
Riding the slow train from New York to Pittsburgh,
The rhythm a sympathetic magic between us?
Back home, we lay in bed, kissing like waterfalls.
Music will become a dream,
then a memory of a dream,
Then nothing at all, just a word,
An unformed idea
Like color to a blind person
Or like the smell of hyacinths lingering
after they’ve been carried out of the room.
You, my best half, know
When I hate myself, I hate us
And you flee to the woods to be
With your birds, your snow-filled trails,
Your deep ravines and wooden bridges
Braided waterfalls, stone culverts
And the singing of the stars
As they go out one by one.
Robin, the sentinel bird, lets out a cry
And the pileated woodpecker chases the hawk away.
Oh love, let us ride the lonely train to Pittsburgh forever
Where the November symphony grows fainter every year.
MICHAEL SIMMS has been active in politics and poetry for over 40 years as a writer, teacher, editor, and community activist. He is the founder of Autumn House Press, a nonprofit publisher of books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction; Vox Populi, an online magazine of poetry, politics and nature; and Coal Hill Review, an online literary magazine. He’s also the author of four collections of poetry and a college textbook about poetry — and the lead editor of over 100 published books. Simms has an MFA from the University of Iowa and a Certificate in Plant-based Nutrition from Cornell University. He lives with his wife, Eva, and their two children in the historic Mount Washington neighborhood overlooking the city of Pittsburgh.
Author’s note: “‘Going Deaf’ is a poem about the loss of my hearing and how I’ve been saved by the love of my family and our shared love of nature.”
These poems are for Eva.
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