Old Face

Cover of Planet of the Blind....man and dog....

And one day you are old. You take out your astrolabe and realize you’re not so old as all that, but you’re a man and so, despite all the American promises of eternal life through consumption, you are finally a grey fungus in the garden. You decide this isn’t so bad. You are the best of the fungi. The moles come and touch their noses to your head. Children think of you as a little house. But yes you are old. In private you laugh about it. In public you put on that grim face called “getting on with it” which younger people interpret as heartlessness. In fact its the opposite of heartlessness, its the countenance of too much feeling.

**

“Getting older happens suddenly. It’s like swimming out to sea and realising that the shore you’re making for isn’t the shore where you started out.”

― Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time

Of course if you’re disabled as I am, and have been so for a long time as I have, the shore you’re intending for was always imaginary, a place of fictive acceptance and so being old simply magnifies how unreal this always was for now you’re blind and old and thereby doubly ignorable. Sometimes you tell yourself being ignored is the best of the matter. That’s because you’re a two-fold problem in the public square and they let you know it. You realize you need a tee shirt that reads: “I’m the best mushroom in the garden.”

**

Some days a silent language is all you need.

Once, riding a train in Finland I sat beside three old women. They knew one another well. You could see it in their postures, their long familiarity. One was knitting. One had a book. The third looked out the window. Every now and then one of them would say a confirmatory thing—“snowing again” or “coffee?” It was easy to be in their company. I was a young man writing poetry and starting to sense the delicacies of language and consciousness. “Snowing again” had traveled ten thousand years to be spoken just then, just there.

In the USA they don’t understand this kind of thing. The young, who mostly don’t like themselves are battering and bartering in the terror state of post-industrial capitalism and therefore, alas, they imagine silence and moving slowly are twin defeats. They could be right, but only one day a week. The rest of time belongs to the heartsore old who’ve found ways to make agreements with dwindling.

**

As a boy I remember other boys taunting me for being blind. Some threw stones. Melancholy isn’t sadness. It comes later and steals up on you from within. Today we call it depression but like everything else with our language it doesn’t capture the nuances and tinctures of melancholy which are composed of love and desperation and something akin to crying for the moon. But whatever its recipe melancholy started for me that day in 1960 when the boys threw stones and sang a song about me and I retreated to the unoccupied spaces for the miserably identified—places oh so familiar to children and adults with disabilities. Oh I’ve squeezed some poetry out of those attics and bomb shelters. Melancholy may not be the muse but she’s got her number. And melancholy loves anyone who cries for the moon. 

You’re old now, so when you cry for the moon you do it differently than you did it as a child. The song these days is about the moon’s effect on the night grass and not about lost love.

Author: skuusisto

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

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