A consequence of advancing years is that, like any machine, the body starts to deteriorate.
One thing starts to go, then another, till we end up, as Shakespeare wrote, Sans everything.
I’ve been wearing reading glasses for a couple of decades but have only recently begun to wonder whether I need a hearing aid as well.
Conversations with others of my age have begun to take on a slightly surreal quality as we each misinterpret what the other has said.
It’s probably fair to assume that things will only get worse as I grow older.
My father became hearing-impaired as a young man and I grew up in a household where his deafness impacted hugely.
My memories of his dissatisfaction with the medical profession’s answers to his disability makes the concept of wearing a hearing aid a difficult one for me to embrace.
Hearing aids were primitive appliances back in the late Nineteen-Forties and my first recollection of my father’s was of a leather-bound box, worn on a strap, with a thin cable running up to an earpiece.
It seemed to offer limited assistance and, more often than not, this lead to frustration and anger.
In time, as hearing aids became more advanced, they became more discreet but seemed hardly more efficient.
Hearing loss isolated my father in a way that, as a child, I struggled to understand.
Only in recent years, as my own hearing has begun to deteriorate in group situations and public places, have I begun to experience that dreadful sense of isolation that my father must have had to endure every day of his life.
The battered leather box
hung, sinister, a weapon forged for war,
around his neck, square on the tweedy waistcoat
beside his broad watch-chain.
I had to stand on tiptoe, speak into it
my childish words, enunciated clearly,
humming through cable, climbing, bindweed thin,
to my father’s distant ear.
A great oak, he seemed to me, solid
in his deafness,
and as I, year by year,
scaled his massive branches,
silence grew around us like a fog.
His deafness was a war zone:
preemptive strikes his way with conversation;
that strident voice, an armoured tank
the dazed infantry of his family.
As he grew old and I grew up,
hearing-aids evolved as well:
replaced the ugly leather box,
more like the tools of spies than those
of men involved in all-out war.
There is no substitute, he said,
for nature’s gifts: the best to hope for
is some trick
to keep despair at bay.
In losing sound, we lost him as he lost himself,
where shrapnel-noise fragmented overhead,
in no man’s land,
beyond the bloody wire,
and I was never man enough
to venture there
or bring him, on my soldier’s back,
but crouched instead
within my fox-hole, deeply dark,
wherein went tumbling
the words we might have said,
the words we should have said.
This poem first appeared in my poetry collection, STRANGE JOURNEY (2010).
Copies are available via the PUBLICATIONS page above.