Lately I’ve been thinking of my friend Charles Gruber, who died June 15 but left behind an abundance of affection, laughter, stories, and beloveds. So I wanted to share this poem I wrote for him and read at his memorial service after a spring and summer of being lucky enough to be among those close to him at the end of his beautiful life. The title refers to Charles’ favorite Sufi song, “Listen, listen, Listen to My Heart Song,” a chant by Paramahansa Yogananda.
Your Heart Song
Listen, listen, listen: how could I ever forget
you with your shining brown eyes, raising your eyebrows
when you bow, hands together at the center of your chest
whenever we meet in an East Lawrence alleyway
or before the glowing dessert case at Wheatfields?
Listen to the lilt of the wind, the hard-won laughter
that comes in the middle of a May afternoon,
when I ask you what dying is like, and we sing
“This Little Light of Mine.” I ask what it means to be
a father, and you sing, “Tickle me once, tickle me twice.”
“Is that what fathering is?”
“How could it be anything but?” you answer.
Listen to Rosie snoring along your side as you try
to catch the words that used to rush through
the river of what you knew, now hidden
in the reeds or thinned to oblivion.
Listen to the stories you tell of Paris hipster lesbians
or Volkswagens with bad mojo, houses no one
or everyone wanted, and mostly, the great loves of your life:
wife, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
So we listen, wait and listen, and if you fall asleep or forget,
Khabira plays Willie Nelson, the phone rings,
and someone leaves a cherry pie at the front door.
The thunderstorms tell of your enthusiasm for all
that gathers us in a circle and makes us sing,
look into each other’s eyes, and remember.
Listen, listen, listen: your heart song