Soul Clap Its Hands

I have reached the age when I must ask “what kind of old person do I want to be?” One thinks it may be an American question, the pursuit of happiness has no age limit. I don’t mean wealth, or success in common forms. I don’t know how the coming years will unfold. All I know is I want to be flexible, kindly, and retain my curiosity until the end. This isn’t a workday ambition. It’s a matter of soul. Soul clap its hands as William Butler Yeats once said.

Often these days I’m forced to reflect on Marcus Aurelius’ famous maxim: “the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” I am 63 and entering the age of disappointments. This means I’ve had my share of luck. I wasn’t a refugee child. As a boy I was treated with penicillin. If my schooling wasn’t superb it was adequate. It is proper to reflect on one’s advantages. If I was a blind child who was bullied—well, I also fell in love with Duke Ellington in solitude and later an excellent professor told me about Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” and so muscular lyricism came my way. I have enough good sense to count these discoveries as good luck.

I remind myself to stay mindful of small fortunes. The color of thought is yet another thing I can’t describe. But reflecting on it has to be good. Before this sounds like a self-help book let me point out human imagination is dark. 9/10 of it is pessimistic. You don’t have to be Buddhist to know it’s difficult to hold a clear thought in mind. The direction of thought influences its coloration. This much I know.

Perhaps I’ll die lonely without money. America is such a place. Maybe I’ll die in good company like Allen Ginsberg. If I pass like my father I’ll fall over while walking my dog. The soul has its own “thing” as they used to say in the sixties. Steeped in its iridescent moon-glow it can be open and unconcerned.

Of disappointments there are many. I know I won’t live to see a golden age of peace and tolerance. I understand it was silly to imagine such things even as late as fifty. Americans are encouraged to be naive. I wept with joy when Barack Obama was elected in 2008. I even allowed myself to believe if only for a minute in the phrase “post-racial America.” Of course remembering optimism is like recalling seasons of love. I see all about me younger people who will not give up on equality and justice. They are still progressively Romantic. Disappointment is nothing compared to future hope. Even in age I can have this. The soul says so.

Maybe I sound like a half baked version of Martin Buber. Or Mary Poppins. I don’t know any more than you what colors the soul prefers. Let’s say it’s a clean window after everything we endured.

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

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

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 

To James Tate in Heaven



I haven’t been followed by a government agent lately, Jim, but I know it will soon happen. I’ll be walking around a campfire with my dictionary and a G-man of small stature will pop out of the underbrush. I’m not sure about the rest, how sad he may or may not be. You never know with those guys. I knew a CIA agent who loved his kids but ditched his family for a shack in the woods. Before he vanished he was quite charming. Then poof! He was gone. I think that’s the way of it after years spent following people, you just snap. Kind of like a cheap banjo. I’d like to write more to you about the suspicious person I think is coming but I’m sure you remember being tired. Sensible paranoia is exhausting. Doctors don’t understand it. If a thing comes true they say it’s a coincidence.

A Brief Essay on Squalorship

Over lunch yesterday with my friend P (whose identity I shall protect, for he is a goodly man) I uttered the word “squalorship” when detailing “accide”—the term for academic indolence. We laughed at the refinements of mispronunciation. Then, since I’m a blind person, I forked up a slice of lemon from my mediterranean salad. I chewed and swallowed. As for “squalorship” I prided myself on having coined a new term.

Resisting accide I decided to look it up. “Squalorship” is, according the Seadict online dictionary:

The living conditions available to a student who has been issued a

student loan from the Federal or Provincial governments;

also the living conditions available once the collection agencies 

start looking for the loans to be paid back.


I ate the lemon. I wondered “what is my name now” having swallowed. I thought “there are divisions of waters between the living and the dead; on the far shore, outside of time, where money is useless, has my father, long gone, also eaten a lemon?”

Here in the half destroyed world where we paint the walls blue, where children leave finger prints on the windows, what reconnaissance do we have? Which protean shape of identity becomes me, or you?

Lemon eater. Glad fool. Resisting accide. Still demanding cut glass ideas against Lilliputian strings.


Post lemon, its taste still on my tongue, I walked up a hill and thought of John Locke and his Letter Concerning Toleration. Locke, because he was Jefferson’s muse—more than Montesquieu or Hume. Why Jefferson with lemon? I’m preparing a course on Jefferson’s lives of ideas, both the good ones and the bad.

“That any man should think fit to cause another man — whose salvation he heartily desires — to expire in torments, and that even in an unconverted state, would, I confess, seem very strange to me, and I think, to any other also. But nobody, surely, will ever believe that such a carriage can proceed from charity, love, or goodwill. ”

Excerpt From: John Locke. “A Letter Concerning Toleration.” iBooks.

Of converted states I know very little, I confess. I can admit this much. And like Jefferson, I’m more of a deist (small “d”) than a contrarian Christian.

I love Locke’s figure (transitive) of a carriage. If salvation has value it must reside in motion. If motion has value it must be progressive.

What do I believe? Resisting accide. Value in the proper carriage.


“What of squalorship?”

College should be free.

Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson and George Washington both enjoyed lemons.


Poor Me

Melissa’s a  Failure.  (Is she EVER!)
Blue girl is too.
So does that mean that even though I may be a "Poor" 1930’s wife, I’m still superior to them?


As a 1930s wife, I am

Take the test!

tell them  I just missed being a "failure" by one point.  They don’t
need to know I may have stretched the truth just a bit when I said I
"dress for breakfast".  Considering the fact that I am usually in my birthday suit when I roll out of bed, anything I might put on is considered dressing, isn’t it?

~ Connie

Exploring the Empty Nest – on horseback!

Although I have ridden a few times since then, it’s been many years since I’ve actually taken horseback riding lessons.  (Dare I say close toConniearthur_3
20?)  One of Steve’s arguments, or should I say "incentives", for moving to Iowa is the close proximity to the countryside – and horses.  I took his argument seriously and yesterday I took the first of what I hope will be many more lessons.  Meet "Arthur".

I arrived at the stable (Wyndtree Farm) and greeted by a very young lady named Winter.  And I do mean young – as in 11 – and maybe 4′ tall.  Winter had been instructed to meet me and help me get ready for class.  "I’ll go get Arthur" she said.  The next thing I knew she was leading this HUGE horse (16+ hands) down the center aisle.  I’m not sure these photos do him justice.  Just trust me when I say "huge".  It was rather comical watching this supremely confident, tiny young lady handle this gentle giant.  Tossing the saddle pad on his back was a huge stretch for her.  I assisted with the saddle.  It was the least I could do.

I’m pleased to say the lesson was uneventful and most delightful (thank you, Denise!)  My form, it turns out, was not too bad after all these years, or so I was told. Holding it took some effort, however.  Never mind.  I look forward to working on it!

Arthur2Photo descriptions: Arthur is a dapple-gray gelding, 16+ hands.  I was told he’s part Percheron, part Thoroughbred.  In the top photo I am standing by his right shoulder, an indication as to just how big he is (I’m 5′ 2").  In the bottom left photo we see him standing alone.

Hold the Wings!

I always wanted to be one of those writers who could turn religious stories into poetry. Jacob’s Ladder; The Prodigal Son; Milton’s Satan coursing among stars…

When I write about anything having to do with religious themes three things happen almost instantly.

1. I forget something crucial about the original story. If I were to write about Jacob’s Ladder it would look like this:

Jacob looked up the ladder and saw angels proceeding ahead of him and Lo! He saw that the angels weren’t wearing any shoes. This caused Jacob to wonder if the ladder, which he found to be rather a splintery affair was just a miserable contraption designed for human kind, or whether in point of fact the angels could even feel pain—or did they no longer feel pain, in which case, should he take off his shoes?

2. As you can see, my version of the story leaves out the other half of the ladder which had the angels coming back down.

3. If you forget about the earthward angels you are likely also forgetting to look at the returning angels’ feet. This is hugely important for if the angels coming back from heaven are wearing shoes then we know that the afterlife is full of cobblers and leather tanners. That would be very comforting information for my Finnish ancestors.

Alas I am too practical and salty for religious poetry. I wish the facts were otherwise.

What for instance do the angels do about those wings while they’re going up and down the ladder? How do the upward angels keep from tangling their feathers with the downward angels? I’ve been on a ladder or two in my lifetime. In general I think its safe to say that wings are a liability when you’re climbing or descending.

Genuine religious poets know that the ladder is symbolic. They know that the wings are real. I don’t know how they know this, but they do.

This is of course the origin of all mysticism: wings, yes; ladders, no; giving Jacob the impression that both are real: easy. Show him the ladder; don’t mention the wings.


Lance Mannion and the "blind guy"

From Lance Mannion’s Fragments of an autobiography:
Tossing a football around with a blind guy Lance_and_steve_2

"But Steve’s real point, I think, is the same one he’s been making to
me since we met, which is not how blind people see the world but how to see the world.

From the start, Steve’s been telling me the same things over and
over again.  Don’t just look, observe.  Listen.  Ask questions.
Notice everything.  Notice people.  Take note of how they move, how they sound, what they say.  Pay attention to them.

Pay attention to everything."

Thank you, Lance.  We both loved your post. 

~ Connie & Steve

Photo description: Buddies from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. "Lance" is on the left. He’s blond, sporting a blond beard, wearing a yellow Oxford shirt, holding a football.  Steve is standing next to Lance, leaning on his left shoulder.  He’s got brown hair, a brown beard, round glasses and is wearing  a red t-shirt.