Soul Clap Its Hands

Have Dog, Will Travel: a Poet's Journey by Stephen Kuusisto

I have reached the age when I must ask “what kind of old person do I want to be?” One thinks it may be an American question, the pursuit of happiness has no age limit. I don’t mean wealth, or success in common forms. I don’t know how the coming years will unfold. All I know is I want to be flexible, kindly, and retain my curiosity until the end. This isn’t a workday ambition. It’s a matter of soul. Soul clap its hands as William Butler Yeats once said.

Often these days I’m forced to reflect on Marcus Aurelius’ famous maxim: “the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” I am 63 and entering the age of disappointments. This means I’ve had my share of luck. I wasn’t a refugee child. As a boy I was treated with penicillin. If my schooling wasn’t superb it was adequate. It is proper to reflect on one’s advantages. If I was a blind child who was bullied—well, I also fell in love with Duke Ellington in solitude and later an excellent professor told me about Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” and so muscular lyricism came my way. I have enough good sense to count these discoveries as good luck.

I remind myself to stay mindful of small fortunes. The color of thought is yet another thing I can’t describe. But reflecting on it has to be good. Before this sounds like a self-help book let me point out human imagination is dark. 9/10 of it is pessimistic. You don’t have to be Buddhist to know it’s difficult to hold a clear thought in mind. The direction of thought influences its coloration. This much I know.

Perhaps I’ll die lonely without money. America is such a place. Maybe I’ll die in good company like Allen Ginsberg. If I pass like my father I’ll fall over while walking my dog. The soul has its own “thing” as they used to say in the sixties. Steeped in its iridescent moon-glow it can be open and unconcerned.

Of disappointments there are many. I know I won’t live to see a golden age of peace and tolerance. I understand it was silly to imagine such things even as late as fifty. Americans are encouraged to be naive. I wept with joy when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. I even allowed myself to believe if only for a minute in the phrase “post-racial America.” Of course remembering optimism is like recalling seasons of love. I see all about me younger people who will not give up on equality and justice. They are still progressively Romantic. Disappointment is nothing compared to future hope. Even in age I can have this. The soul says so.

Maybe I sound like a half baked version of Martin Buber. Or Mary Poppins. I don’t know any more than you what colors the soul prefers. Let’s say it’s a clean window after everything we endured.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Barnes and Noble

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

One thought on “Soul Clap Its Hands”

  1. Hello Stephen K,

    I was prompted to visit your site after a long absence by a review* of your new book posted by a former co-worker and friend in the Seattle area. OK, well, I kinda guf-FAAAAAWED when you vowed to remain “kindly” in your advancing years. I prefer to think that you often have had bigger priorities than mere kindness, and have always appreciated the way you can rip into someone when necessary.

    And funny you should mention Mary Poppins as a role model for approaching life. I was just yesterday encouraging a FB friend to teach her toddler the Mary Poppins song to help her learn the value of work: “With every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and *SNAP* the job’s a game…” But added that MY own personal cleaning song has always been the one I learned long ago in a Pete Seeger songbook, “She looked at the mud on her doorstep (’twas raining), and this was her song as she wielded her broom, ‘Oh life is a toil, and love is a trouble. Beauty will fade, and riches will flee. Pleasures they dwindle, and prices they double, and nothing is as I would wish it to be!”

    Anyway, age well, die well — do your best to make peace with all the myriad little and large sufferings that can sometimes accompany this process!

    Above all, fight the good fight!

    Best wishes always,

    Leslie B.

    *SightConnection Book Review: “Have Dog Will Travel, A Poet’s Journey” by Stephen Kuusisto, 2018

    Stephen Kuusisto is well known for his book “Planet of the Blind.” His new book, “Have Dog Will Travel,” makes one appreciative that he continues to write and to share his experiences as a person living/thriving with vision loss.

    Born legally blind, Kuusisto recounts his process of discovery as he learns about limitations imposed by others. As a child “none of the grown-ups in my life admitted disability” and thought “disabled kids were victims of a nearly unimaginable fate.” Kuusito writes, “We arrive at self-awareness according to thousands of influences.” This memoir recounts a courageous journey, when at the age of 38, he decided to become independently mobile with the help of an orientation and mobility instructor who “helped me find my locus of independence.” Achieving this goal allowed Kuusisto to go through guide dog training and eventually be matched with “Corky” and “all at once everything became reachable….my self regard had been fired in a kiln.”

    Prepared to be inspired for this honest journey written in lyrical prose. At the heart of this journey is an inner drive to live fully and to expand the trust from a canine companion to an inner trust.

    Kate Fewel, MSW, LICSW


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