On Disability Poetics: Essay Five, or, Falling in Love with the Great Caruso

I fell in love with “The Great Caruso” because I was a lonely kid and that’s how many of us find art. If you’re blind and you’ve an attic and a Victrola you’ve everything you need. Soon I was haunting the local library, asking for any books I could get my little hands on. And with my one working eye I held a picture book an inch from my face to see photos of my private tenor. There he was with Helen Keller, gently holding her hands to his throat as he sang. My Caruso was a kind man. I thought of Keller’s finger tips pressed against a living hive of musical notes. On the next page Caruso was dressed like an ancient Egyptian. Though his pose was supposed to suggest fierceness he looked like he knew a private joke. You bet I was in love.

Soon I graduated from listening to Caruso in the attic to bringing home long playing records from the library’s collection. This way I could hear several arias at once. If I knew next to nothing about the operas from which the songs were taken I knew the sound of milk and iodine, the suffocations and gasps of life, the magnificence of a heart beat that won’t be ignored. If I was disabled and reviled by the children in my age bracket, well, I had what I’d discover later is known as enantiodromia—the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time—a Jungian concept—it occurs really as a fixative from underneath, just when you’re hopeless you become powerful on the inside.

Snick of the needle in a groove. Caruso in La Boheme. What did I know about love? I understood how it could fill a room.

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