--for Naomi Ortiz
Just a local stroll—
Dead fountain, snow, light,
Blind, starting always…
A crippled friend writes
About a gasoline attendant
Who was addicted to meth
How meeting the guy
With his own disability
How many times
Have I been in the company
Of drunks and broken wanderers?
Traveling blind differs from sighted walking in only one respect: strangers are more likely to approach when you can’t see. They’re generally not malevolent—my sense is they’re lost. Yes it’s ironic they should gravitate to a blind person.
Over the years I’ve come to see this gravitation as something spiritual. I don’t mean it in a churchly sense, but more like Carl Jung’s analysis of UFOs. A blind person going confidently about his or her business means something obscure to hapless wanderers.
Once in New York City I was grabbed by a man who dragged me across the street. On the far side he actually bowed and ran away. He never said a thing. My guide dog was as stumped as I was. They didn’t teach us about this at the guide dog school. The man was working something out.
What’s clear is that disability always represents something—its like the mirrored ball in a disco. You may be—no, likely are—minding your own business. You’re pumping gas like Bill was doing, or you’re standing on a corner thinking about tartar sauce, why do they call it “tartar sauce”—did the Tartars actually make sauce—when a man disguised as a man appears. He says he has headaches. He says he lost his job. Says inside his clenched fist he has a ruby that once belonged to Agnes Moorehead. These things happen all the time when you have a disability. There is no such thing as neutral weather. Not if you are a cripple abroad in America.
Today they are burning the world
They do it in a kind of reverie
They love their occulted ash
They look forward to the death of all atmospheres…
How can I be a poet
How do I think this mask of tragedy
Will “mean” anything tomorrow?
There will be no books tomorrow
There will be no wind swept crows wings
When I was fourteen years old and struggling with vision loss, my mother, who was by then a heavy drinker met me at the door of our house. I was returning from junior high school, hoping desperately to find safety after seven hours of bullying. All I wanted was my own room. I could picture in my mind’s eye my cave with its short wave radio. Nowadays I know the mind’s eye is the work of the soul but I didn’t know it then. I only knew retreat.
My mother clutched a burning sofa cushion. “I don’t know how I did it,” she said. “get out of my way!”
She ran across our suburban lawn with the blazing thing held at arm’s length, and for some reason she wouldn’t drop it. She staggered from place to place until flames singed her hair and then she flung the cushion into a neighbor’s hedge where it extinguished itself but continued smoldering, sending up smoke signals.
As a disabled teen I was learning there were no safe places. We find, by necessity, locations where our souls can retreat, and after practice, we learn to take these guarded, hermetic spaces wherever we go.
Back then my job was to endure by stamina. Be blind, but don’t be blind, be something sort of blind, but not really blind blind. Be some kind of defective sighted person, but not really defective, just moderately less broken. Or whatever.
Blindness became a tortoise like affair. My blind soul held its breath in a shell.
They are burning the world down
I’m still holding my breath
I’m pleading before a mirror and ringing a bell