The Cage We’re Forced to Watch

My neighbor is eating good ham. He drives a nice car. He voted for Trump. He’s a stand up guy. Just ask him. He’ll tell you he loves America. In fact he loves it more than you do. You describe problems with the USA. He only sees timeless verities: cowboys and Indians; slaughter on behalf of the railroads; local jobs based on environmental destruction. While the Colorado River basin runs out of water he says global warming is a hoax.

Sleeping he dreams of a wide cushiony bed where no one has sex, it’s a white, protestant cloud if you will.

When he wakes he turns on Fox News and tells himself America is great again because “those people” are getting their comeuppance.

**

Yesterday I hosted film maker Federico Muchnik and poets Doug Anderson and Preston Hood at the 15th annual Syracuse International Film Festival.

Federico’s film “Hunter in the Blackness: Veterans, Hope, and Recovery” details the experiences of American soldiers—veterans with traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and other poly-traumas. Doug Anderson and Preston Hood, both veterans of the Viet Nam War are featured in the movie alongside vets from America’s involvement in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is a haunting film. The lack of awareness of civilians is a recurring theme. We send boys and girls to wars while America shops at the mall. When troops return with grievous conditions many Americans don’t want to know.

22 veterans commit suicide daily in these United States.

Last evening, after I bid farewell to my new found friends, I took an Uber home. My driver was a veteran of the war in Iraq. He has PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He told me how his best friend from his time in the military recently committed suicide.

And there we were, riding in a Dodge pickup, through the gritty nighttime rainy streets of Syracuse, NY, and it was impossible for me to blink away the machinations of my country. My driver told me about his TBI, his facial disfigurement, his stress condition, and the ongoing difficulties he has had with the VA to get the help he needs.

Rain spattered the windshield.

**

Swedish poet Lars Gustafson writes: “And a cage/which never held a bird can easily give/a feeling of disorder.”

I’ve not been to war. But I know the cage we’re forced to stare at.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

A Valediction of Fainting

The surgeon plucked at my eye with a forceps. I said I was fainting. Then I fainted.

It was a textbook instance of the “vasovagal reflex”. You can ask the CIA. Touch the lenses of the eyes and you can induce loss of consciousness.

Reader: perhaps you’re a frequent fainter and are familiar with the poetry of the matter. I doff my hat to you.

I woke in a chair. Although I couldn’t see I heard a nurse say: “I can’t hear his pulse.”

The neo-cortex (mine) which thinks fast (yours does too) said inwardly: “Merd! Je suis mort!”

(The neo-cortex it turns out, speaks only French, as it was in fact discovered by Denis Diderot. You don’t have to know French to understand the neo-cortex. The translation process is automatic. It does not matter if you are a Finn or a Croat or Laotian.)

(Theory: the French language was invented by and for dead people.)

(Proof of above: Diderot: “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”)

The nurse said next: “Okay. I can hear his pulse but it is very faint.”

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Stop With Your Ableist Lazy Rage

Over the course of the last two years (post election and the year prior) I’ve watched people throw ableist insults. From the right the favored term is “libtard” and from the left one hears “moron” “idiot” and “imbecile” all echoing eugenics both in Germany and the United States when the disabled were marked for elimination.

When disability must be employed to register rage then its nothing more than lazy rage. Rather than call a Trump supporter an imbecile why not say: “there’s a person who doesn’t understand his shadow.” Not so much fun as ableizing him or calling him a pig or weasel.

Lazy rage is fun rage. Even in their discontent Americans like to have fun. Trump knows this. Its perhaps the only thing he knows.

We’re got rape culture to worry about; children in cages; wholesale destruction of the environment at hand; black men in the school to prison pipeline; eroding medical services for veterans and the poor; unending American involvement in ruinous wars; the collapse of public education; big Pharma slinging opioids in every corner of the nation; religious extremism attacking science; an outright war on the Americans with Disabilities Act—I’m just getting started.

And all I see on facebook is callow name calling with an especially able bodied smugness.

As John Lennon might say: here’s another clue for you all. You are as much the problem as the problem.

Read Carl Jung on “the shadow” and know your own deep despairs before saying someone else is “lame” and for god’s sake join a volunteer organization of some kind.

“Its Against the Rules, Disabled Person…”

If you’ve a disability you’re used to hearing: “its against the rules” in hundreds of settings. “Its against the rules for you to stand near that painting”; “against the rules to sit in a wheelchair in this section”; “have extra time on a test”; “wear those headphones in class”; “take three incompletes in a semester”; on and on. “Against the rules for a guide dog to ride this bus”; “against…blah blah blah….”

A major facet of ableism rests with the rhetoric of rules and rule bound thinking. A friend of mine a blind attorney who graduated from Harvard Law once said in a job interview something like, “dude, my whole life is outside the box.”

Bureaucrats, administrators, college faculty, politicians, etc. like to say they want to “think outside the box” but their boxes are never open where disability is concerned.

Rules are good. Don’t walk on the grass. Don’t shout fire in a theater. But rules preventing the disabled from participating in mainstream activities are always ableist and ugly.

I was told as a child I wasn’t allowed to play games with other kids. Told I didn’t belong in almost any room where I found myself.

All disabled people know that story.

It especially kills me when administrators at colleges and universities can’t find it within themselves to solve an accessibility problem because the problem defies the ordinary.

My friend Scott Lissner the ADA Coordinator at The Ohio State University once found a way to get a wheelchair using student aboard a tractor.

Accommodations require imagination and a can do spirit.

When you’re tempted to say “against the rules” where disability access is concerned its time to scratch you head and say, “what if we….?”

Disability accommodations represent old fashioned American know how.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Oh, the Poor Sighted People, etc.

I will tell you how to be blind but only when first you tell me how it is to be sighted. You will tell me what you see which has very little to do with the matter. You cannot help yourself. To see, seeing is this sail turning before the wind, this nearly transparent orchid. When your thoughts turn atavistic your vision has much to do with being a prey animal for humans have a great deal in common with horses.

So by turns, given this is what you believe about sight—that it is the sum of its contexts and each “peep” stands for something universal—you must believe the absence of sight is nothing more than a mineral blank.

You think there’s a tribe called “the blind” and we are pulling off a sinister trick by our very attempt to live in the world. You want to ask: “how can you live if you can’t see?” You know you want to ask it. A famous fiction writer once asked me during a job interview: “How can you write so clearly if you can’t see?” Translation: “How exactly are you fooling us? Maybe you can see? In any event you must be dishonest.”

Blindness is dishonesty to many sighted. If I can be called “blind” you can be called “sighted” though I prefer mis-sighted for you. In any event you believe you’re the sum of your sights however poorly apprehended.

Yes, you see as through a glass darkly. Most of you know it and are afraid. “Why if I lost my little peephole it would be like death itself.”

The blind are, to the poorly apprehended, the walking dead.

Yes. The blind are zombies to the P.A. kids.

Yes. The poorly apprehended are just kids.

Children who believe they’re the sum of their toys.

Seeing is toy collection.

Wouldn’t life without toys be impossible?

You’d have to be a zombie.

**

Not long ago while visiting a famous arts colony I heard a notable writer say that henceforth the famous arts colony would no longer be blind and poor when it comes to appreciating outlier forms of art. He said it twice during a formal speech.

And there I was with my guide dog. I’ve spent the last thirty years writing six books which argue that blindness is a rich way of knowing.

I was insulted and remain so. Yet this is business as usual for the poorly apprehended who can’t describe sight but imagine they know it thoroughly and think the blind are among the sighted “on sufferance” and yes, we make the P.A. tribe nervous by our very appearance.

I share with my black and LGBTQIA pals and all my foreign friends a capacity to make the poorly apprehended nervous. All of us are believed to be “here on sufferance” but there’s something especially dishonest about the blind, the lame, the halt.

The dishonest thing is that you, the sighted, unable to tell me what vision means, and only able to describe your toys, you fascinations as it were, the majority of you have no spiritual center. Without this you can’t imagine the glory of life itself. You think sight seeing is the secret to living.

And if you believe this, then you also must believe that language isn’t much of a thing.

My answer to the famous writer who wanted to know how I could write about the world with clarity was simple: all nouns are images. Horse. Battleship. Rose bush.

All I have to do is jot down a noun and voila! I saw what you saw little dude.

Or: of course I didn’t see it. But according to neurological findings, neither did you.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Disability, Coltrane, Thorn Soup, etc.

The opportunity one sometimes has to hear John Coltrane playing Soul Eyes. That’s a sentence for the indirect object is perfectly implied. If you don’t get it you don’t.

If you don’t get that I’m blind but not deficient in imagination or discernment well, you don’t get it. Artists at the famous arts colonies and conferences don’t grasp this. I’m used to it.

I’m a poor, blind, unknowing wretch.

I’ve been writing against disability as pejorative metaphor for thirty years.

What can I say?

Soul Eyes.

Try it.

The narrow highways of ableist fancy take the sighted to the shopping malls of vanity where no reappraisal of physical trauma will ever jar their consumerist ambitions.

**

By day I want to go from the white square to the black. I don’t require much. Ambient chess in the wind torn world.

**

I have a sense of myself as a social thorn. And the ablest types are happy to confirm this. What they don’t know is I come from a culture that makes excellent thorn soup.

**

Scientists think they’ve discovered the secret to Coltrane’s high notes. They think it has to do with the man’s glottis.

I say its thorn soup.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Disability? No Permission Necessary

I have for much of my life been an outsider. By this I do not mean a victim or beseecher. Perhaps I’m these things in dreams. Asleep I’ve begged for admittance to Noah’s ark. By day I give no ground to those who dismiss me. Make no mistake: as a blind citizen I’m dismissed every day. Every. Single. Day.

My “outsider” status is therefore a matter of discrimination, ableism, of cozy habitual group dynamics. Geography doesn’t matter—I’m dismissed or have been dismissed at Syracuse University (where I currently teach) and on vacation. Blindness is a stigmata to the educated and whatever we might mean by the uneducated. Where disability discrimination is concerned its been my experience there isn’t much of a difference between the two.

I am not a defective sighted person. The majority still believes this. And so I’m an outsider by virtue of a twofold misapprehension. While visual impairment is inconvenient its no measure of my value unless we imagine value as the capacity to read eye charts. The ancients would have seen my value differently. They’d have applauded my memory or my brand of intelligence.

That the customary view of blindness is mediocre and unimaginative is hardly news to me and all the other blind people I know. That the social reception we receive continues to be miserable is the grout or cement of my outsider status.

The second dynamic of outsiderness is my refusal to accept the position. I’m not asking for permission to be in your cohort.

Permission is only a thing in desperate dreams.

I wonder if Noah allowed any disabled animals on his ark?

I wonder if Noah had a disability, either visible or invisible?

Was he obsessive compulsive?

What about Mrs. Noah? Did she suffer from seasickness? Agoraphobia?

I can say for sure that religious organizations are as dismissive of the disabled as the faculty clubs of universities.

The trick as I see it is to remain fresh, optimistic, grounded, kind, and unyielding in the personal and collective fight for dignity.

I don’t need permission for that.

Nor do you.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger