Secret Decoder Ring (Yes, it’s a poem. Read it out loud)

I have realized recently that the critical voice in my head sounds amazingly like my dad.

who is dead, by the way.

but when I step to the side and listen to the voice –

not as a voice that’s telling me what to do,

but as one listens to a recording,

fragile and scratchy,

preserved as sound

waves from the past –

I hear what I now call

“Dad Speak.”

I have the universal translator,

a secret decoder ring

to unravel the babble and garble of

driving instructions, money lessons and job advice,

ridicule with appellations of stupid, dumbass, and warnings like

don’t be an idiot!

Do you hear that voice, too?

All of those what-the-hell-were-you-thinking

questions that aren’t really questions

that echo worry and fear and sleepless nights

and show up as language for someone

who never learned to speak

words of tenderness and love.

I answered back in the same tongue, of course,

fluent in the dialect I acquired at home

sharper and more acerbic

until the acid rawed my throat

Only then did I stop to listen.

If you set the decoder on forgiveness

and adjust to compassion

all I can hear now is

I love you I love you I love you

and I answer back, I love you, too.

Depending on what you believe, he may or may not be listening,

but I am.

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