Hemingway? His Office is Just Down the Hall…

This week PBS will air a three part documentary about Ernest Hemingway produced by Ken Burns. Much advance commentary exclaims how toxic, cruel, alcoholic, sexist, and racist old Papa was. None of this is news. It’s certainly not news that the man was a big deal.

So I’ll say it. I’ve traveled widely in American literary circles for most of my adult life and I’ve seen cruelty, vanity, racism, sexism, homophobia, alcoholism, and every kind of perfidy on display from coast to coast. Moreover diversity doesn’t offset the miserable character flaws of writers. I have observed women treating other women with raw contempt; people of every background making homophobic “jokes”; able bodied writers sneering at cripples; and yes, the toxic masculinity of Hemingway’s ghost drifting through writing workshops. I once saw the poet May Sarton humiliate a young woman for saying she liked the intersection of dance and poetry. I’ve seen male poets who were openly predatory toward young women. I’ve watched the moue of disgust on a novelist’s face when asked about the work of another writer–the vanity, lying and the striking of ugly attitudes is appalling. So yes, let’s “have at” Hemingway. He deserves a three way mirror.

As for me I’ll watch the series. I generally watch anything by Ken Burns. But I won’t imagine today’s writers are nicer people. I’ve been to too many college campuses and academic conferences.

I’m writing this on Easter. I’ve still got forgiveness muscles above my neck. People are harmed by a thousand things. They struggle ahead wounded and tired. I merely wish to note Hemingway’s flaws are widespread. Why? Because creative writing doesn’t make us better human beings. If this was true Hemingway wouldn’t be so relevant.

From a Notebook…

Here come the philosophers clomping up the stairs, hot-headed while praising dispassion. (If you had the proper spectacles you’d see their superegos resembling old undersea diving suits with iron helmets.)


Forget the comic books sonny.


Psychologists can’t decide if we have memories or not. You only think you remember being abused by your parents. But your parents are too mysterious for you to remember. Yes, your little brain is just a seed on the wind.


If I was as bitter as you I’d be a behaviorist too.

At the Ophthalmologist

Old poem, inside anything–
Murdered kings in lightbulbs
(Robert Bly) standing room only
For the groundlings in mist
Or your private dead
In performance
Though the doctor
Can’t see it
Your mother setting fire
To furniture
The big house listing
Like the Titanic
And the turtle backed
Retina sparking
In Marconi’s hair
“Everything looks the same
As last year,” he says
Wiping his specs.

Even With This Headache

Of course it goes on for days. Window shades roll up and down. Paint cracks along the moulding. Far from this room someone smokes a filterless cigarette. Some Rosie the Riveter or John Bunyan. And the pain pumps like a rubber bladder.

Blind people have headaches. Oh not all of them of course. We’re wildly different from one another. But hot rivets behind the eyeballs are common with many of us. It spreads across one’s face and skull like fire in dry grass.

If you’re one of the lucky blind who has a job you’re a figure of misapprehension by colleagues, often thought to be moody, perhaps unfriendly. Those blind people. He looks bitter all the time. Well, you try walking around, unable to see what’s in front of you while a prairie fire rages in your noggin.

I’ve laughed for years at the “let’s pretend we’re disabled for a day” exercises you see on college campuses. There’s always some poor soul wearing a blindfold and poking around with a cane. I want to whack them with a ball peen hammer and taser them just so they can get a better appreciation. The “not seeing” is just cake icing.

So I’m a blind spoonie counting out functional minutes and almost daily. Rarely do I have a happy 9-5 pain free teaspoon day.

Of headaches it can be said they’re more like a mist than a rainfall. Rain is for amateurs.

Zing and All

I want to be beautiful like the worm inside the thistle and I want a good, hard, unpolitical crying jag wherein I shall weep for life within the life.

I deliver a weather report. Today will be a high gravity world without adequate language for death and dying. Late in the afternoon someone will ring a bell.

Spring. Phooey. Sugar poems are written on all continents. Easy to glow rapturous about the outward things but it’s also the season of ghost maples. No one’s writing about them. Too hard I guess. Now that spring’s here I want to lie down on the wet leaves that spent winter under the snow. You can’t explain this to anybody. They’re all dancing around like Percy Shelley.

No. No. No. No. This is a Shelley free zone. If we must have a poet let it be Auden:

“Behind the corpse in the reservoir, behind the ghost on the links,
Behind the lady who dances and the man who madly drinks,
Under the look of fatigue, the attack of migraine and the sigh
There is always another story, there is more than meets the eye.”

Let us pretend to cheer, the work of all sowers and gardeners. There’s always another story and we can mostly keep it to ourselves.

Reflections on Route 66 and Disability

I will pass from this world soon enough…

As a guide dog traveler I could die on any street though my dog offers some hope we’ll make it across. But like many disabled I live with the intricate and dark understanding I could disappear at any moment. Abled people have this also, specifically when they think about random gun violence in supermarkets or schools, but us disabled have this always. It’s not just a blindness thing. Wheelchair users know all too well the perils of street crossings. Autistics know about the horrors of police interactions. And the medical industrial complex, our rich and muscular father, he despises us.

These and other thoughts were on my mind yesterday as I contemplated turning 66. Route 66.

Disability is a matter of knowing all about mortality and precariousness. It’s many other things of course. But like Carl Jung’s metaphor of the house under the house this is the Etruscan sub-basement.

I remember how my late friend, the disability activist and scholar Bill Peace was attending a conference at Yale University. The event was about bio-ethics. Bill was a wheelchair user and he had a sudden cardiac emergency. He was taken to Yale Hospital where, believe it or not, he was shunted to a corner of the emergency room and left alone for 7 hours.

Bill died two years ago in another instance of medical neglect.

Route 66…


As late as 1985—yes, believe it—just five years before ADA, I was told by a graduate professor that if I was blind I shouldn’t be in his class. This was at the University of Iowa. That’s pre-ADA in a nutshell. I went to the department chair—he called me a whiner; I went to the Dean, he looked at his watch; I went to the university’s “ombudsmen” (quite a feat since his office was incredibly well hidden) and he also looked at his watch; I talked to the moribund and ineffectual disability support office—they said, the best we can do is give you a note that says you can have more time for exams. The demeaning, bigoted, ableist hostility was untouchable.

I left without my Ph.D. I already had a graduate degree in poetry writing. I packed up. Pre-ADA there was no recourse. If they told you to get lost, well, you didn’t have ammo to fight with.

Those who say the ADA has’t done enough for the disabled are not wrong. And there are still professors everywhere like the late Dr. Sherman Paul who treated me with unspeakable disdain. But post-ADA you can fight back. Post-ADA there are consequences provided you’re willing to snarl and push. There’s still a boatload of ableism around. It may even be fashionable with some. But ableism is long past its sell date and it smells funny—by which I mean you can’t hide it anymore.

I know the ADA hasn’t created lots of jobs and I know it hasn’t changed every mind. Even now the Chamber of Commerce still fights disability rights. Recently with the Chamber’s help Domino’s Pizza tried to say the blind don’t have the right to use their websites—they lost in court—but you see how it goes.

Where am I going with this?

Every street in town is potentially lethal. Every emergency room can kill the cripples. Education is still hard to obtain for the disabled. One in four disabled students graduates from college.

Route 66 indeed.

A Birthday Memory

Someone sent me a plastic Buddha in the post. There was no return address just a plain brown wrapper. He was squat and soapy green and listed to the left since his bottom wasn’t milled properly. He had sharp spurs on his feet like a toy soldier.

This was years ago when I had friends. “Who would anonymously send me a kitsch Buddha was the most obvious question. Was it a prank or perhaps a warning? I was a recent graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Was it literary criticism? It seemed like a thing one poet would do to another either with or without a true motive. That was the thing. He represented motiveless long distance tomfoolery. Or so I told myself. I put him next to Wallace Stevens in my bookcase.

Why not a plastic Buddha? Why not silk flowers in the wintry north? So what he isn’t quite upright?

I knew where he came from alright.

Palm Sunday and the Local Witches

“Virvon varvon tuoreeks, terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks, vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!”

–Finnish children’s chant on Palm Sunday

In Finland on Palm Sunday children dress as witches and knock at neighboring doors while carrying pussy willow branches which are sometimes bedecked with feathers. If the door is opened they pronounce a blessing rhyme and leave a branch as a gift, while receiving sweets in return.

Roughly translated the chant goes like this:

“I’m wishing you a fresh, healthy upcoming year, a branch for you, a prize for me!”

It really can’t be rendered in English for there’s a playfulness in the rhyming, like saying, “Hinx Minx, the old witch stinks….” We English speakers have no way to rhyme health, happiness and reciprocal gifting.

But this is what I’m wishing you.

No More Cancel Culture BS Please….

When white people talk about cancel culture I wonder what it is they’re talking about. Yesterday’s GOP directed voter suppression in Georgia–now a law, a law designed to prevent minority voting is the only cancel culture I’m interested in.
Moreover, if like me, you favor Ernest Hemingway’s “iceberg method” when thinking about stories, you know what’s underneath the GOP’s election meddling–the racist carceral state. The GOP’s slogan should be “less votes, more prisons” and just be done with it.

Boo hoo, you’re a celebrity who got roasted on twitter because you said something offensive; weep weep, you’re a dingbat academic who doesn’t like trans people and now you’re crying about your academic freedom. Cancel culture is just another word for wounded privilege. Oh, and guess what? If Black college students want their own graduation ceremonies that’s their right.

Meanwhile, John Lewis is barely in his grave and they’re working to take the vote away from Black Americans.