Learning to Speak with Dad

It’s not what I expected—this hour of trying to teach him
conversation, how to rest one syllable against the next. How to say
I’m sorry when I’m sorry is what should be said;

how to hear the last thing I spoke before remembering
the next thing he’s thinking; how to ask a clarifying question and not
use phrases suggesting any blame.

To think about Momma when we are talking about her
and she is in the room, no longer able to chuckle or scold him. I chuckle
and scold him, but it’s never quite the same. He practices

active listening and I can see it happening even over the phone: a tighter
jaw, thinner eyes, fingers gripping the receiver
a little bit harder, sweat, and his stance like an engine revving. Dad

was never good at this—I’ve heard the same stories
hundreds and hundreds of times since Momma had the strokes:
the Navy ship and sailors scurrying naked up ladders

when a lookout called Sharks! in the waters near
Kowloon Bay, his crooked finger (a childhood injury), and the shitty
camper he bought from a guy on a whim that he angrily abandoned

at Smitty’s Garage—brand new tires and all. And his nose.
He’s having sinus surgery again this week to help improve his breathing.
He blows a wad of snot into a handkerchief

loudly and I practice active listening.
He swallows, stutters, pauses, clears his throat a dozen or more times,
mirrors back to me:h-hem, uh-huh, whew, huh?, ohhhhhh.

Last updated November 14, 2022