On Hearing and Ear Hair

October 10, 2007

My wife enjoys my new gray whiskers, and is fascinated with my new ear hair; she leans in to examine these signs of age as if she were taking close-ups of insects–both delighted and repelled by biological fact. I didn’t expect this, I mean, ear hair once was not my most beguiling feature.

My little boy’s ears are smooth and hair-free for now. I listen to him march and count his steps: “Hup, two, quore, cap! Hup, two, quore, cap!” He chants just what he has heard; context provides him with no cues, no corrections. What do I hear in his little man-voice? What tumbles through the ear hair and the other growths and accretions?

I hear other voices sometimes, despite my ears’ conspiracy to keep the noise out. Just today I heard the fall wind, a boy marching, and–believe it or not–I actually heard my wife’s gaze, peering as deep into my ear as the hairs allow.

Maybe it’s true that Marvin Gaye heard it through the grapevine, but I hear it through my ear hair and all the other sounds that have taught me to hear.

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Neighbor Boy

April 21, 2007

My wife worries about the boy,
says she doesn’t want to see him fall and break his head.
He is an odd child, like a pen-and-ink illustration
in a children’s book from last century.
Small feet, narrow body and limbs,
and a too-big head with adult features.
Every day after school he climbs the tree
across the road from our kitchen window.
He plays up there; his own mother doesn’t seem to mind.
Today he is as high as he’s ever been.
His shoulders and head are above the leaves,
and I think again that he is such a little boy.
The wind is gusting, and he flaps in the yellow air.
The rain might come soon, and lightning.
I want to go outside in the gathering storm
and watch with the boy for the breaking point.
But my little ones are inside with me, and I stay with them.
He holds his profile still for a long time—looking right into the wind.
I watch his head and wonder if he is a pirate in the crow’s nest,
or a rider on the plain galloping into the wild west.
Now I begin to worry about him for the first time.
What if he falls? It is so windy. These things can happen.
But he is not my child to correct.
In his tree, on this day, he belongs to no one.