Whenever I fear myself a bore
I think of listening. I should,
I tell myself, do it more.
I know a man who can give
more attention to his meal
than a room, yet still listen.
He looks suspiciously like Ruskin.
He does not boast. Yet if he recollects
an anecdote illustrative of human folly
a mischievous gleam inflects
his milky blue eyes, trailed by a little grin.
The failure of outlandish ploys
especially delights him.
He sometimes speaks about the Bible
as though he knows it start to end. He does.
Though he is neither pious nor dour.
When I sit in his proximity I have a tendency
to chatter. Am I nervous or trying to amuse?
I am trying to set him off, in a friendly way.
To elicit the licit state of listening:
I seek the open sesame, the magic word
that will joggle the charmed book
from off the shelf of his memory.
I will not have heard of it. My naiveté,
ever on offer, raises the eyebrows
of my interlocutor. They are wiry and stiff.
He has given me gifts that bid me listen.
a ponderous boxed set of thickly cut
33 1/3 inch records, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Books, countless books, all freakishly apt.
Sometimes, when he’s grumpy, I find
I fear his judgment, though toward me
he has always been well-mannered and kind.
His conspicuous love of women
Makes him a very poor curmudgeon.
He delights in odd stories. Tales that teeter
at the edge of incredible but nevertheless
are quite true. He likes to read bad meter,
and to share odd knowledge known by few.
He has his share in Adam’s curse, although
he does not seem to. A gift for surface levity
props up this masquerade. Without pretense
or martyrdom the pages blow by gently.
Listen, and you might hear them, chuckling.