Ripeness is All

Beethoven’s violin concerto is the perfect balance of milk and milk.
Adorno’s dialectic is to body shame as money is to dialysis.
Disability studies is to ableism as crickets in August.
Wallace Stevens is to philosophy as bibles are to baking.
When poets have fun so do the tea cups.
Playing the violin burns about 170 calories per hour.

**

How close am I to becoming someone?
Of course I mean this in a moral sense.
I have the history of morals here in my cup.
Dregs of Aristotle.
Push them with my finger.
Happiness. Virtue. Work.
Remember to be a good flute player.

**

I ask so many questions.
Why do I believe I should soften death?

**

What is someone?
Is it cumulative flowers on a grave?
Even Shakespeare threw up his hands.
I joked once in a Helsinki pub:
Lear is a self help book…
“Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

**

Thank God I have the radio for company.
Thank God for William Shakespeare, life coach:
“And worse I may be yet: the worst is not
So long as we can say ‘This is the worst.”

**

After Ecclesiastes:

I haven’t been true to myself lately
I press my face into barberry leaves
I weep among stems
If you know me you’ll not be surprised
If you know me you too will be honest

When I Close My Eyes

Face it: its feeling drives you
No help for it
Bread sits untouched
& the country that isn’t a place
Takes you in

**

Yes I’m blind
I can still see a swan’s track
On the water

**

History calls the sleepless

**

After years
I’m not much of a talker
I prefer to drop things

**

The houses hereabouts have no special beauty
You won’t find gorgeous specificities
Strangers have sorrow smoke in their eyes

**

Up in the tree of boyhood
With a home made arrow and bow
When I close my eyes

Rainy notebook department….

“When one burns one’s bridges, what a very nice fire it makes.”

Did Dylan Thomas really mean it?

(Riding a tram in Helsinki.)

**

One likes to imagine death driven by wind—
leaves, snow, what have you…

**

Phenomenology is to the body
As the body is to a seed
Please don’t think too hard about this

**

Handel’s “Water Music” is cheerful, stately, vaguely orgiastic
Radio on a rainy morning

**

Old Folks Poem

I can’t keep up
I can’t keep up
What’s that? A frying pan?

Please don’t think too hard about this

**

One morning early, bending to trash, I saw a flash, a light not of this world. “Maybe my retina has detached,” I thought. The gold white iridescent microburst was passing strange but then it was gone and to date has never returned.

Every now and then that flash, that otherworldly color, returns in mind.

All our eyes expect to be received.

**

Whether I was in my body or out of my body as I wrote it I know not. God knows.

—Handel

Leafage

Sometimes I cry aloud
Charon does also
It’s hard work
Living moment to moment

**

Drama is crying with a script
I can’t find mine

One definition of childhood

**

The old dog bit me

**

You can discuss Helen Keller
But you can’t say what words
Perform on the inside

**

Have you seen a cormorant
Enter the sea?

That’s my Helen Keller—
That falling….

**

I sat on the sofa where the former me had been so damned sad.

**

Greek myth, Boolean algebra, Lyell’s hypothesis, Tu Fu—will they come with me?

**

“Leafage is hearsay when you’re blind, until you hear it. Today is May 27.” (Walking in a cemetery in Peterborough, New Hampshire.)

Cloud Houses

In heaven
Where coins are useless
No need for eyeballs

**

Boat rotting on the beach
Ghost still rows
What happens
Is relatively simple

**

Houses, barns, trees
Proclaim in mannered voices
Those who presided here.

**

Turns on his radio
For psychotherapy

**

Andante Favori
A dance with animals, autumn

**

“He thinks the moon is a small hole at the top of the sky, proving the sky quite useless for protection.”

—Elizabeth Bishop

Blind man with pictures in his head…

**

I make cloud houses for a living
I’m a fair singer also
**

Don’t judge my posture

**

Poor Achilles, always a mama’s boy

**

Eat more American prunes

**

Cat stares down coyote
Past lives are decisive

**

Best anagram ever: “Public relations” = “Crap built on lies”

**

Imagination had been grudging
Now it was doggish
Over there and over there

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.

Fall Arrives in the Finger Lakes

The poets always say “if”
The mosquitoes say “now”
Exchange is a puzzle

**
Up river empty houses
Lean in the wind

**

When writing
Add footnotes—
George Washington
Spilled blood over there

**

By those birches
People tried in vain
To silence anxiety

**

Tattered maple tree
Squandering light
With its falling leaves

**

The summer has been dark as a bed

**

The poets always say “if”
As in: if the soul gets loose

**

When I close my eyes
I see Winter’s mask:
Gold animals

Thank You, Virgil Thomson

One of the pleasures of reading is the discovery of a superior voice, one you’ve been waiting for even if you’d no idea you’d been anticipating it. In my case the aesthetic affirmation comes from Virgil Thomson who’s polemical essays on music and everything else are original and beautifully “unlike” as the best writing should be. Consider this little nugget from his essay 
“Our Island Home, or What It Feels Like to be a Musician”:

“Among the great techniques, music is all by itself, an auditory thing, the only purely auditory thing there is. It is comprehensible only to persons who can remember sounds. Trained or untrained in the practice of the art, these persons are correctly called “musical.” And their common faculty gives them access to a secret civilization completely impenetrable by outsiders.

The professional caste that administers this civilization is proud, dogmatic, insular. It divides up the rest of the world into possible customers and non-customers, or rather into two kinds of customers, the music-employers and the music-consumers, beyond whom lies a no man’s land wherein dwells everyone else. In no man’s land takes place one’s private life with friends and lovers, relatives, neighbors. Here live your childhood playmates, your enemies of the classroom, the soldiers of your regiment, your chums, girl-friends, wives, throw-aways, and the horrid little family next door.”

This is, if not sidesplittingly funny, arresting enough and if you, like me, labor at a university (or any other professionalized but provincial arena) you know all about the dogmatics of professionals and the “everyone else community” or no man’s (or woman’s) land of private life.
If you don’t buy records or books, you are, according to the professional caste, just another prole. Reader: I went to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and all I can say is this is spot on. As for the horrid little family next door it’s probably safe to say everybody hates them.

What’s delightful about Thomson is his candor about the no man’s land. Musicians and composers can make perfect art if they don’t tire of their trades. But then:

“Private life, on the other hand, is beset by a thousand insoluble crises, from unrequited love to colds in the head. Nobody, literally nobody, knows how to avoid any of them. The Christian religion itself can only counsel patience and long-suffering. It is like a nightmare of being forced to execute at sight a score much too difficult for one’s training on an instrument nobody knows how to tune and before a public that isn’t listening anyway.”

Mark Twain couldn’t say it better. (See Twain’s vision of heaven where no angel can play its instrument….)

That’s a delicious pronoun reference—“it is like a nightmare” points of course to private life but it picks up magnet-like, the almost witless patience of the church.

The poet in me loves the following:

“Everything the poet does is desperate and excessive. He eats like a pig; he starves like a professional beauty; he tramps; he bums; he gets arrested; he steals; he absconds; he blackmails; he dopes; he acquires every known vice and incurable disease, not the least common of which is solitary dipsomania.

All this after twenty-five, to be sure. Up to that age he is learning his art. There is available a certain amount of disinterested subsidy for expansive lyrical poetry, the poetry of adolescence and early manhood. But nobody can make a grown-up career out of a facility for lyrical expansiveness. That kind of effusion is too intense, too intermittent. The mature nervous system won’t stand it. At about twenty-six, the poets start looking around for some subject-matter outside themselves, something that will justify sustained execution while deploying to advantage all their linguistic virtuosity.”

Thank you Virgil Thomson. Thank you!

I have indeed however tried to make a grown up career out of a facility for lyrical expansiveness. As for solitary dipsomania, well….

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:
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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