Les Murray: Learning Human (2001, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) No rating

A bighearted selection from the inimitable Australian poet's diverse ten-book body of work

Les Murray …

Hearing Impairment by Les Murray

Hearing loss? Yes, loss is what we hear who are starting to go deaf. Loss trails a lot of weird puns in its wake, viz. Dad's a real prism of the Left— you'd like me to repeat that? THE SAD SURREALISM OF THE DEAF.

It's mind over mutter at work guessing half what the munglers are saying and society's worse. Punchlines elude to you as Henry Lawson and other touchy drinkers have claimed. Asides, too, go pasture. It's particularly nasty with a wether.

First you crane at people, face them while you can still face them. But grudgually you give up dinnier parties; you begin to think about Beethoven; you Hanover next visit here on silly Narda Fearing—I SAY YOU CAN HAVE AN EXQUISITE EAR AND STILL BE HARD OF HEARING.

It seems to be mainly speech, at first, that escapes you—and that can be a rest, the poor man's escape itch from Babel. You can still hear a duck way upriver, a lorry miles off on the highway. You can still say boo to a goose and read its curt yellow-lipped reply. You can shout SING UP to a magpie,

but one day soon you must feel the silent stopwatch chill your ear in the doctor's rooms, and be wired back into a slightly thinned world with a faint plastic undertone to it and, if the rumours are true, snatches of static, music, police transmissions: it's a BARF minor Car Fourteen prospect.

But maybe hearing aids are now perfect and maybe it's not all that soon. Sweet nothings in your ear are still sweet; you've heard the human range by your age and can follow most talk from memory; the peace of the graveyard's well up on that of the grave. And the world would enjoy peace and birdsong for more moments

if you were head of government, enquiring of an aide Why, Simpkins, do you tell me a warrior is a ready flirt? I might argue—and flowers keep blooming as he swallows his larynx to shriek our common mind-overloading sentence: I'M SORRY, SIR, IT'S A RED ALERT!

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