Learning To Talk

For my brother

In the years when the house was loud

With argument and tears we learned

To cast voices, ventriloquists for

The lambskin dog, the comedian clown,

Petey the father bear, that trio

Who traveled the world together,

Beat back armies, caged or killed


When the three were retired

To the back of the closet, eyeless

And balding, dribbling stuffing,

Our voices faded and the house

Fell quiet, except for the rattle

Of the tin can telephone, ``Can

You hear me?'' before the string

Went slack, or ``Do you read me?''

Over the static of the walkie-talkies,

My room to your dirt cellar dugout.

Sometimes a pencilled note, ``Send message,''

Arrived on the Lionel train whose tracks

We laid down the hall, or in a mailbox,

Thirty years later, stacked in a pile

With bills and junk mail.

You work

For the telephone company on cables of light,

On memory thin as soap bubble film; I study

The talk of children at play, still trying

To make out the answer, ``Can you hear me?

Do you read me? Send message, over and out.''

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