I was walking my guide dog in the snow…

I was walking my guide dog in the snow
And we were good

I was breathing as a healthy man
In through the nose

Out through the mouth
It’s hilarious to be a living thing

Though many books say otherwise
We’re all of us the rustic world

Merry expressives talking out loud
On the day I was born

I wasn’t expected to live more
Than a few hours

My twin brother died straight away
We were two pound infants in rural America

In general terms I think anyone
Who pretends disability is easy

Is fundamentally dishonest
In the blindness world

Which is heavily impacted by charity
We have countless stories of heroic

And strenuous accomplishments
I love accomplishments

In winter there’s one stark
Morning presses dullness down—

Best to know it, good to know
Say what’s coming…here

I let you in, no sun today
In through the nose

Pain Pornography

At the end of the world the humans were arguing about pain and pornography, that is, who had it worse. Almost no one was speaking for the animals. “Well,” said the old elephant, “that’s the problem with their poetry.”

**

Last night in a dream I was singing three line songs in the woods. One had something to do with flies from the horse’s perspective. Oh, and the melodies!

**

Teaching nonfiction it’s important to emphasize its thrilling ironies: Prokofiev and Stalin dying on the same night.

The string quartet who played beside Stalin’s coffin wept–for Prokofiev.

Tears mostly tell the truth.

**

Poets customarily ask if poetry has a practical impact and often come up despairing. “Poetry makes nothing happen,” Auden said, and he was right if happening is carpentry, which is what the question is about–in essence it asks why can’t poetry be a blueprint? The late Finnish poet Pentti Saarikoski once wrote he’d like to be the sort of poet whose songs call trees and stones forward, that he might build houses for people. The line is about as far as one can get from Auden–even as the wish may be unachievable it musters intention. In this way the line is ridiculous.

Saarikoski knows it. Ambition, intent, and their failure together frame the insistence poetry must carve a plan, however utopian. Poetry makes nothing discernible happen but it’s blueprint is, much like Italo Calvino’s invisible cities, enticingly clear. Poetry can be concerned with the potential city–an urban romanticism surely, but one yielding a realized eschatology, as Kenneth Rexroth once said of “Leaves of Grass.” Whitman’s Manhattan offers a vision of what America could be, or may still become, a harmonious, loving, broad minded portion of the Earth, elect and free. Whitman insisted spiritual and civic life, a life equally enacted of mind and body will simultaneously propose and affirm true democratic love.

Makes nothing happen? Turn to the the walking stones. Tell them.

Oh Schubert, you were perfect…

Oh Schubert you are such a bother for you were perfect. Even as you died. You went out listening to Beethoven’s string quarter #14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131. Your friend Holt commented: “The King of Harmony has sent the King of Song a friendly bidding to the crossing.” Never mind the syphilis, the mercury poisoning, the blackened teeth. The best I can say is “never mind” like the barn owl—“the moon is perfect, never mind” and never mind getting lost in perfection.

This is how it’s done. The clocks may or may not be sad. Leaving the world in C-sharp minor.

E is the only major in C-sharp minor, but you can’t leave on E alone. Departure requires several dark feathers.

**

When I was a boy I thought I heard a voice coming from inside a window. Just a small auditory hallucination on a slow summer day. Here’s to conversant glass in an old house.

**

When I play Schubert on the hi fi I’m calling him on the Schubert phone.

**

I know so little and so I’m uncomfortable. I should know more about the stars and the gods of other ages. I should certainly know more about card games.

**

Now. Schubert insists on the river flowing out of now. This is the core of what the critics in their heavy boots call “Romanticism.”

**

Here’s to the Schubert singing windows and the Schubert rivers.

**

I’m not important. What a relief.

The Conditions

I have this life which I do not understand
I have death approaching which I do not understand
I have this body which is a staircase
Of course I have laughter and tears
Call me in the morning
I don’t remember now
A certain Roman poet had five crows
Which he kept in a cage
Personally I would never cage a crow
A long list of the dead
Is like music
And the car hurries obedient
I promise that today I shall do some small good
Yes I’d get down off my high horse
And beg forgiveness
If I knew where to stop

I’ve been having a recurring dream, a dark one…

I’ve been having a recurring dream, a dark one. It’s been occurring for about two years. Unlike my customary dreams which are filled with clouds and undersea rocking horses this one is shockingly specific and intricate. Basically, a high school friend murders another kid and involves me in the cover up. This is successful and I live with the full knowledge that I’m complicit in a terrible crime. There are police and multiple narratives. My job is to caste doubt on the whereabouts of certain key players. (Other kids know about the crime and my job is to script them.) I do this effectively. The cops know I’m lying but can’t prove it. They know my friend has done the deed but can’t prove it. And of course the body of the murdered kid is never found.

It’s a trivial dream. Teen noir. A bad TV movie. I know. Each time I have it I wake feeling it must be real. The nightmare hangover lasts until I put on my slippers. Slowly it dawns that it’s just a dream. Yes I knew those people. No, we never killed anyone. My pal in the dream was in fact a sinister teenager. But not a killer. And then I realize that all I know for sure is that he never killed anyone in my presence. Nor did he talk about killing people. He was the kid who’d steal your parents’ valuables when he came over to play air hockey.

I grieve for who I once was. I had a very troubled adolescence. I regret my seed time as Robert Lowell might put it. And yes the dead kid in the dream is me. All the characters are me. Even the cops. When the dead kid’s mother appears she is also me. I tell myself this is a Freudian joke. I tell myself it’s time to let go over guilt because I was sad and destructive so long ago. But it doesn’t matter what I say. I live daily protesting that I’m good. I’m really a good man.

My teen self understood. Everyone is wearing a uniform. The adult in me wants to reassure him but can’t.

In this way my dream is about the social lie as defined by the poet Kenneth Rexroth who said:

“Since all society is organized in the interest of exploiting classes and since if men knew this they would cease to work and society would fall apart, it has always been necessary, at least since the urban revolutions, for societies to be governed ideologically by a system of fraud.”

I Insist Today is Eternal

In a meeting online with disabled friends, one of them autistic. He eats several pieces of paper during our session and I envy him. I really do. Just as I envy the crow who walks straight across the top of my fence, perfect, a hieroglyph in motion. There’s so much to desire.

Yes. There’s so much and so much. I love Whitman because he doesn’t covet things.

It’s not easy eating a sheet of paper.

**

I’m going to make a mistake old dog
Winter in your dreams
And god damned winter in mine

Hello dear birch
Here is the unambiguous sun
I insist today is eternal

**

I love Verdi more than any other…More than eating. I love the master’s quick hinges—three notes and you’re in another galaxy. No one does it so well. No one thinks faster than Joe Green.

**

Verdi’s childhood piano, now under glass at La Scala. You can see penciled letters on the keys where his father drew the notes. My wife described it to me, as I’m blind. And so there was the artifact with its original tenderness, and then my wife’s description, and I knew it was the same tenderness.

**

The dog who loves you turns up in your dreams. Last night she was a woman on a train who said her name was “Evensong” (I kid you not) and she was old and dignified.

**

It is almost certain the first makers of papyrus chewed the reeds and sometimes swallowed a mouthful in the process.

Slippery Slope Note

Thinking about America’s idiomatic “slippery slope” while walking on a slippery slope, thinking how the Cossacks exploited this by chasing innocent women and children downhill, and the slave owners, the storm troopers how they’ve always used the landscape to their advantage. Thinking and walking in a dark time. Apple Music can’t drive this out. Happy tunes can’t beat the cossacks.

**

Of arrows I prefer the invisible—I’ve a dozen in my torso, ten or more in my face—blind children carry them far into adulthood, no visible markings.

Mornings I roll a wheel
Also unseeable
East to West
North to South
In the privacy
Of my room

**

Eyes so wild he can’t flirt. But what if flirting is boring?

**

Now and then I have to whisper to myself as if the train station is a library.

**

Dear Mother, Or the History of the British Empire:

“Again I have failed. This time in the Punjab. Please send train tickets and a tin of biscuits with the Queen’s face on the lid.”

**

Oh the slippery slope. American version. The old joke: Why do they call the US a “melting pot?” Because the the rich bubble to the surface while the people at the bottom get burned.

Walking. Ice under foot.

Oldest Lingo

I am silent in the learned languages and speak under my breath
In the ones I’m still learning. How do I call you?
So much lost hope singing these pop tunes.

**

Old enough to see the forest isn’t a church.
There are however dropped hymnals which we call mushrooms.
Sometimes lake-blue through trees…

**

Two catbirds call in rain
Cup of coffee in hand
Dog pleased with himself
& books on a table
With accumulated
Natterings—Kierkegaard
Especially, all that desire
For a God
Of the mind
I think
There was no God
In his Danish shoes
No God
In the silver birches
& when he lit a fire
It was simply a fire
So much pressure
On the written word
Like a child’s game—
You know
The one where
Walking
Your footfalls must be perfect
Or someone dies

**

I’m an irreverent fellow. But I can’t laugh at the unbidden, constant sadnesses of happenstance people. This morning however It’s a Mardis Gras moment. I feel like throwing beads like the firemen in New Orleans. 

Heart flying but still attached
One makes up stories
With many animals
I find coins
In the grass—
Nunc dimittis
This blindness of mine
King of eyelashes

**

One night I talked with birches
Saying: “I’m not oppressed!”

There was an evening wind, branches rustled,
It seemed they answered me:
“We are incomplete also…”

**

I’m too childish for grief
As a boy I was
Harmed

So I’m a creature of the amygdala—
A a plough-man of sorts
With agoraphobia

I mean grief
Is for adults their losses
Stack neatly like sour cans

In fear daily I cry
Drop to my knees seeing
A dog’s pink mouth

Dangerous as A Sliver of the Moon

I come from several provincial cultures. I’m the small town kid, the blind kid, the one who spent time alone; who went to a rural high school; a tier two college. I belong to the provincially privileged as I see it now, able to think in the sunbeams and motes. I love artists from outlier places: Toni Morrison; William Faulkner; Jackson Pollock; Langston Hughes; Ella Fitzgerald; James Wright; D.H.Lawrence–the list is nearly endless.

Just so I’ve always admired this poem by James Wright:

“Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio”

In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Therefore,
Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

**

Certainly the poem is dated. It was written sometime around 1960. Martins Ferry, Ohio was then and still remains a deeply sectoral and impoverished place. (In fact, now that the coal and steel plants are gone, it is arguably worse.) Yet for all that, despite its dated racist language and its decidedly un-feminist depiction of housewives–what? We see alcoholism, despair, wantonness, the strippling boys, children of drunks growing suicidally beautiful and playing a violent sport that is really no sport at all.

I admire the poem for its keen edges; its refusal to play the American game of small town sentimentality–football is rendered here as terror.

I was in mind of it when watching the Trump mob storm the US Capitol last week. The Jugalos, Boogaloos, the Q-Anons are the provincial suicidal gallopers, desperate boys and their girls with digital devices on their wrists.

Didn’t it look like a football tailgate party for the fathers ashamed to go home?

Cheap little rhymes
A cheap little tune
Are sometimes as dangerous
As a sliver of the moon.

― Langston Hughes

Il Penseroso

Day is breaking and the moon has run away.
There’s a moon in my wrist a moon in my eye.

I wish I could call you but its time to pray.
Upriver everyone gets his say.

I’ve a moon in my wrist and eye.
I’m drawing with chalk a sun with rays.

Day is breaking and the moon has run away.
See how small the houses are today?

I wish I could call you but its time to pray.
Upriver everyone gets his say.

They’re loosening the nails down by the quay.
Day is breaking and the moon has run away.

And bring all Heav’n before mine eyes.
And may at last my weary age

Find out the peaceful hermitage,
Day is breaking…