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I asked my friend, the poet,
how she was getting by.
“Work and tears,”
came her reply.

“And listening,” she added,
“in silence, to be sure.
I listen closer
now than before.

It is a lot like reading,
a thing I loved to do . . .
What book felt like
first love to you?”

“It was in French,” I said,
“a book my mother kept
to read to us
until we slept.

Not a children’s book—
an excerpt from Hugo?
or Maupassant . . .
with etchings, though,

in which, from room to room,
as gentle as a mouse,
the family bear
wandered the house.

The bear saw everything,
and knew their secrets well,
but couldn’t speak,
so couldn’t tell.

The grateful children fed him
Crêpe Suzette and tarts;
for his mute love
had warmed their hearts.

I thrilled to see that book
in the case beside my bed,
to hear, again,
things left unsaid.

And I’d imagine what
the bear kept to himself—
stories to fill
another shelf!”

Although my tale continued
longer than it should,
my friend’s clear eyes
pronounced it good;

as in a dream that takes
for granted the absurd,
she’d understood
my every word.

Long will I remember,
if memory is kind,
how warm she made
those rooms of mind.

—Alfred Nicol