A child needs to do one thing over and over to calm himself down when the adults get angry. What does he do? How does he learn it?

A foot’s tap

Is his music,

A bird’s chirp:

That’s his music.

And at six,

Vibrating his lips,

Slapping his knees,

And a clock’s tick

Puts Max to sleep.

 

Mother’s expletives

Sound best

With eyes shut.

And a bottle’s clink

When thrown at the sink

Is Max’s music.

 

Shutting one ear

Then opening it again

Changes the sound of

Dad’s leather band.

Max does this again:

One ear covered

By one hand,

Then switches sides

And like magic,

This too becomes music.

 

Over and over

And over again:

One ear covered by one hand.

* *

A rubber band,

Stretched and strummed

Is his music.

A car’s horn:

That’s his music.

Standing in the street,

Max hears that music,

But jumps back just in time

To hear mother’s scream.

 

Dad will know

Before dinner’s end

That Max’s music

Nearly knocked him dead.

Mother’s to blame,

Though we know it was Max

But tonight’s bedtime story

Begins with emphatic threats.

 

Lying in bed,

Max sits and wonders

If Mother’s ears are being covered.

She showed him that once,

That time he sat and watched –

 

Like watching two cars crash,

Max couldn’t look away.

It was just an accident. 

That’s what Mother always says.

But Mother’s mistake

And Max’s on looking eyes

Sent Dad to his bottle

While Max tapped along

To the music.

 

Mother doesn’t know

About Max’s trick –

The music that happens

When ears are shut

Then opened real quick

 

Over and over

And over again:

One ear covered by one hand.

 

Maybe he’ll tell Mother about this,

But on second thought, no.

Because if she discovered his music,

The fighting might end.

And it’s the silence that Max

Really can’t stand.

 

He can only fall asleep

To the soothing sound

Of Mother’s cries,

Slapping his knees,

And one ear covered by one hand.

 

Over and over

And over again:

One ear covered by one hand.

 

 

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