Empty Paths

Don’t sing to me about going down to the Crossroads—
Blind as I am, walking with a dog,
I’m always at lethal intersections.
These are countries without names.
The Devil has nothing to do with them.
Henry Ford sits on his cloud and points.

**

Read T.S. Eliot in youth.
Now when I go back
I riffle an album full of leaves.

**

After much is said and done
I made too many mistakes.
Entered strange parlors,
Uttered jokes in poor taste
Among people I didn’t know.
Ate with the wrong utensils.

**

So he went a long way a long way:
Metaphorical luggage,
Regrets, coins, pocket comb,
Dharma in memory.
Broken thread dangling from his wrist.

**

Eliot:

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

Oh but this isn’t so.
The language stretches out.
On the bright side:
Language is a jacket you’re not cold in.

**

So many times I’ve fallen asleep between two winds.
Even on this street corner.

The methodological problem of how to be human…

—after Eeva Liisa Manner

Living demands action that works—see Aristotle up to his neck in water counting insects.
I don’t know you and cannot. Three circles this way, five crosses that way.
Have me you lilies; call me you blossoming meadow.
Ruminate, versify, grow flowers…
Early morning—I see how small my hands are,
What do I know about truth?
As a small child I loved the telephone
With its shell sounds
Others so far away…
No day after tomorrow, no tales
That couldn’t be right
And the bear of falsehood asleep in his forest.
Autumn is coming.
I’m not absolutely young anymore.
I was something. If I was I.

Sasquatch, Blindness, and Good Old Carl Jung

In Eric Wiener’s review of John Zada’s new book “In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch” we learn that “you see a Sasquatch only if you’re undergoing a personal crisis.”

Alright. I admit it. Though I’m visually impaired, I’m seeing Sasquatches everywhere. This is Trump’s America after all and its one hot ugly mess.

Yesterday in the elevator of a suburban Washington, DC Hilton I saw a tiny Sasquatch with a head like a hairy anvil. He was having trouble pushing the buttons so I helped him. He was checking in to the executive suite.

**

Now it’s true that when people are distressed they see things. The blind are no different. I once saw a Russian businessman eat an entire bear in a Helsinki restaurant. He pocketed the claws.

**

Lacrimae rerum—or Disability 101

Always the doctor leaning close, saying you’re different. You raise your hands. The doctor is shabby. He’s asymmetrical like a Roman Emperor. There’s something wrong with the doctor. And even though you’re the monster—hence, proprioceptive, fast and clear, you know you’ll never get the doc to admit his shortcomings.

**

Maybe Sasquatch are defrocked doctors roaming the hinterlands. Plastic surgeons who ruined boobs and noses.

**

When I was eleven years old I fell onto a pricker bush. It’s hard to say how I did it, but I was impaled on hundreds of thorns. My sister who was six at the time, and my cousin Jim who was maybe nine, fell to the ground laughing as if they might die. I begged them for help which of course only made them laugh all the harder. I remember tears welling in my eyes and their insensible joy. I also knew in that moment they were right to laugh—that I was the older kid, was a bit bossy, disability be damned. I was the one who told my sister and cousin what to do. Now I was getting mine. My just desserts. In the end I tore myself from the monster shrub and stormed into the house. I sulked while they continued laughing outside.

Now sulking is an interesting thing. The word comes from the mid 18th century, from the obsolete word “sulke” which means “hard to dispose of” and is of unknown origin. In general I love words that have unknown origins.

The verb “to sulk” means “to be silent, morose, and bad-tempered out of annoyance or disappointment.” The most famous instance of sulking in literature is in opening of The Iliad where we see Achilles sulking in his tent, refusing to fight with the rest of the Greeks. In America where there’s a lot of sulking, perhaps the most famous sulker of all was Richard Nixon, who said in a press conference after losing the gubernatorial election in California that “you won’t have Nixon to kick around any more.” If you’re a sulker you can’t deliver the Gettysburg Address.

In this way, successful sulkers know the cave of hard dispositions must be visited but only for the briefest of repairs—like a toilet on a moving train.

At eleven I pulled those damned prickers out of my arms and legs, my neck. I asked for no help.
And as a disabled kid this was always the way of things. I remember the day a substitute teacher (who must have been all of 20) made fun of my blind eyes in an eighth grade math class. “Who are you looking at?” she said, with what today they call “snark”—and my “Lord of the Flies” classmates burst into laughter. I got up and fled the room.

I sulked. All alone. I knew a good place in that school. In the bomb shelter. I wept among empty aluminum water cans with radiation logos stenciled on them.

After that I reported the teacher. Sulking has power if you know when to quit. Achilles knew.

**

I suspect Sasquatch are sulkers. Or better: they’re the archetypes of sulking. I’m going with Carl Jung on this.

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 

I think of Saarikoski who died young from drink though there was the world…

Though there was the world—a phrase fit for the Romans
(Who ran from their houses in dread
Who ran home again…Lucretius:
“A man leaves his great house because he’s bored
With life at home, and suddenly returns…”)

Up river a house
In which one can be both inside and out…

Reader I’m Sorry….

Let’s go up river though the current isn’t easy. Spiders skate in the shallows. A thunderstorm is coming. Open your eyes as wide as you can.

How easy it is to appeal to the reader.

**

Reader I’m sorry. I should own what I need and leave you be.

**

Last night I lay in wet grass among fireflies. Somewhere far away a dog was barking at something no human could hear.

**

I grew up beside a river.

**

The trick was this: I grew. I admit just this. I was sad at windows. I thought my boyhood shoes were hideous.

**

I was so busy with things under the trees, mushrooms, crickets, I paid insufficient attention to the sky—blindness be damned.

Emmanuel Kant and the Barometer

In the early summer of 1798 Emmanuel Kant decided to publish his lecture notes on metaphysics so that future scholars might use them. The Enlightenment was not without transparency—a matter easily forgotten in late post-modernity. It’s also often forgotten that Kant’s primary research topic was human nature.

For Kant, “virtue” was the point at which morality makes contact with human nature. Lately I’ve been (in my mind’s eye) viewing (daily) the Kantometer—like the barometer it measures pressures unseeable. Its point of departure is virtue as recognized above. There are other indices of course. They’re tiny gradients etched at the margins.

Morality meets the Aristotelian idea of the good, virtue index 12. A good score. Now a certain greasy American senator announces black people should go back where they came from and the Kantometer, measuring the virtue contact drops like the barometer in the Caine Mutiny.

Kant believed virtue and the pursuit of moral life are the duty of humankind.

The Kantometer is busy and mostly sinking.

**

I have tried to be a good man, though I fail, much as anyone must. The clouds come close, deer nest under the apple trees. I fancy vengeance as I want so much to consign all the meretricious bureaucrats to Hell. I ask Jesus to forgive me my lambent distress. I want to be good. I wish the love my animals show me to be merited. I want to be the kind of poet who builds houses for people.

**

I agree with Jurgen Habermas: “each murder is one too many.” I wander around grieving. There is so much death and its industries are fed by good and bad citizens alike. This is why terrorists hate the nation states. Try and locate the moral centers of the United States or France. Refugees stream across uncivil borders desperate for food and medicine and they’re met with realpolitik. Neither Vladimir Putin or Trump wants to save the children of this thirty years war. As I write, the half starved deer are nosing among the daffodils in my yard. I see them as children.

**

How to be good? “Hell isn’t other people. Hell is yourself” (Ludwig Wittgenstein) I think, “even Jesus went to Hell, and he came back, stronger.” We’re here to endeavor for strength. Such proud words. I fail and often. Old Ludwig Wittgenstein often sounded like my Finnish grandmother: “we’re not put here to have a good time.”

I’m the electrolysis of good—you too. That’s how we’re wired. God grant me more volts.

Church: Or, Freshman Year

I couldn’t help it. I was just a child who thought the crows were far more interesting than the Sunday school lesson. Moses was in his basket. Shit. I was only five and I thought: “good for him.” Later I’d see something of myself in Huck Finn and much later I’d admire a series of ruinous literary boys but not just then. The crows were fighting over something dead. How could the bullrushes compete? I wondered if Moses heard crows as he floated. This was one of my first lessons in art as I saw early there was no one I could ask.

**

Sometimes I think that if I’d been a sighted person I’d have avoided attending college, been like Orwell and gone off to Burma. But I couldn’t see and had no training in independence and with no idea about how to live or what to do I attended the University of New Hampshire in the Fall of 1973. I was too blind to pursue higher education without serious accommodations. My parents were certain that I’d just go on living my life of half successful “pretend sight” and really, in truth, they couldn’t care less what happened to me. Too blind to read more than an hour a day and heavily reliant on marijuana I stumbled around Durham, New Hampshire in a depressive fog. My dormitory was less than a mile from the church where I’d admired the crows just thirteen years prior. One cold morning I went there alone and sat under the crow tree.

**

The war in Viet Nam was raging. Even the largely square UNH students were against it. Some were innocent by which I mean they went streaking for 1973 was the heyday of throwing off clothing and running wildly across campus. I joked with a friend, said, “they’re doing this because the food is terrible.”

**

A boy across the hall from me called me “blindo” almost every day. I found out where he parked his car and pissed in his gas tank.

**

My year at the University of New Hampshire went poorly. I smoked pot daily and earned “C’s” in the few classes I bothered to attend. I couldn’t see shit. There were no reliable adults in my life.

I took to sitting under my church tree at least once a week.

**

The crows got to know me. I was convinced of this. Even when they were mobbing and spatting they knew me and some would take food from my hands. Some sat in the branches and talked. The thing is, I had no one to tell.

I understood my fierce loneliness as being other than a happenstance thing.

**

When you’re blind as I am you can still see tiny motes of light appearing and disappearing.

So You Elected a Pornographer, Now What?

First things first: wash your hands. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve actually shaken hands with Donald Trump or not. All the major studies agree that frequent hand washing is good for you. My Finnish grandmother once shook Richard Nixon’s hand and then didn’t wash that hand for a month. As far as I know Nixon wasn’t into porn but he certainly had dirty hands.

I’m not an expert in pornography but like a famous Supreme Court justice I know what it is when I see it. We’re now living in the age of decline porn. Every story coming out of Washington or Biloxi is like something out of a soap opera. The National Basketball Association? Soap opera. Congress? You get the gist.

People have to love their porn. They have to wallow. Trump brags about grabbing women by their privates. Abuse ‘em and ditch ’em. That’s how he runs the government, conducts foreign relations, handles his business dealings. The man is a grifter. He’s also the decline pornographer in chief. He tells people the country is in trouble though he inherited a prosperous and largely well run nation. He tells people the dark hordes are coming although immigrants fleeing persecution are part of our national history and social identity. The man is sticky with self loathing, which, as I take it, as a necessary pre-condition for spreading porn.

Yes he’s the decline porn star in chief. He’s the Harry Reams of politicians. (Remember when he boasted during the debates about the size of his thing?)

The decline porn star needs endless dysfunction to succeed in spreading false misery narratives. Remember, he’s only happy when he can abuse and mislead people.

A thoughtful, earnest, truth telling chief executive doesn’t need decline porn–he or she can see the real problems facing the nation and bring decent people together to tackle them.

In order for Trump to spread his stickiness all over the place he needs smaller decline pornographers like Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and countless others with dirty hands to admire his fecklessness and abuse of dignity.

Susan Sontag said famously: “What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn’t sex but death.”

Look at the children and adults dying on our border with Mexico.

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 

Fast Virgin Train, Blindness, and the Talking Toilet

If you’re blind and travel you know a good deal about the world of talking appliances which are designed by sighted people and are intended to help people with vision loss but are really rather goofy: elevators that announce “doors open” and the miserable voices of bank machines. But just this week I met the greatest talking device of them all: the speechifying toilet on the Virgin train from Liverpool to London.

Now the Virgin fast train talking toilet (hereafter known as the VF3T) wasn’t designed for blind people. She was created for morbidly depressed travelers. I call her “she” because I’ve been told her voice is that of a woman who won some kind of contest.

Imagine reading an advertisement: “Be the voice of the Talking Toilet!” and thinking it sounds like a great opportunity. You want to break into the big time, be a star of stage and screen. Surely you’ll work your way up from the crapper. (Whatever happened to being on the radio?)

Picture me in the unfamiliar swaying toilet cubicle. No Braille on any buttons. I can’t figure out how to shut the door. A passing stranger reaches in and says, “Here, I’ll press the shut button for you.”

Poof. Door shut. The toilet starts her speech.

Before saying anything more let me just ask: “who thought that giving a toilet a woman’s voice, an actual human voice was a grand idea?” Of course the answer is “a sighted person” for if you’re blind and groping in a vaguely intimidating water closet hearing the following is piercingly bad:


“Hello there! Welcome to Virgin!”

I was mortified.

Had I entered an already occupied WC?

“I hope you’re having a wonderful day!”

“Did you know there are many splendid traveling opportunities with Virgin?”

“Alright,” I thought, “she’s a toilet bragging about train service. Not a big deal.”

But she continued. She was a kind of self help guru talking up the glories of life, the virtues of moving about the world and the joys of being alive.

The VF3T wants to keep you alive.

The VF3T is designed to prevent disheartened travelers from offing themselves in the loo.

“Aren’t sighted people funny?” I thought.

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