Journey

Who was the composer who heard apples in a basket
Can’t remember this morning
Spend time with a barn cat
Talk to the blind horse
Much of what I do
Is insignificant
I write myths
A troll who loves geese
Protects the lost animals
Down valley the river
Has frozen again

Morning Harp

No one today calls out to the diseases
Not like Vainamoinen
Who made the birches listen

**

Kalevala:

Wrought from iron
four sided word—
mill
forest
bird
boat

one word
boat-forest-bird-mill
how else
to tell it?

**

My roots give off a sound
That’s not like anything else
Blind, I still close my eyes
Just to hear

**

I used to have an iron crow
It stood in the garden
One day a real crow
Rubbed her feathers on it

Mozart

Improbable yes but I dreamt of him
And though we were indoors
Rain fell and it was beautiful
Water coursing down walls

“We only get so much”
He said—“opera is for the young,”
“String quartets, for dying”
He was alive alright

The dream is an antiquated device
Driven by voices and water
Its parts so ingeniously assembled
We rise and fall through elements
But he kept writing

Disability Access, Brooklyn Poets, and the Collective Struggle

Last night I had a “Zoom” with poet Jason Koo who directs “Brooklyn Poets” a literary collective in, you guessed it, Brooklyn, NY. Also joining us was renee kay the BP Deputy Director. To be frank I wish more folks in the arts–and who necessarily are “on” social media–could have conversations like the one we just had.

At issue: Brooklyn Poets has opened a new performance space at 144 Montague Street which is on the second floor of a mixed use building and isn’t wheelchair accessible. I raised the question about the accessibility of the space on their Facebook page and they confirmed the problem.

So we began our convo talking about Hemingway’s “iceberg” theory. The biggest parts of a story are always hidden–the writer hints at things unseen. Stay with me here.

I can’t speak for all disabled artists. But I “am” a disabled poet who publishes disability poetry and speaks about disability rights. I said disability is everywhere once you learn to look for it. Even if you don’t think it’s close by, it is.

Jason Koo made the initial mistake of responding to my Facebook query about accessibility with irritation. He said, quite rightly, that he didn’t know who I was and he doesn’t respond quickly to people he doesn’t know.

Full stop. Jason is a Korean-American poet who has the emotional candor and critical thinking to admit his mistake. Me? I shared with him that our preliminary FB exchange happened on the heels of my having been denied two Uber rides because I travel with a guide dog and even though this is against the law, shit like this happens to the disabled all the time. Living in the civic square as a cripple is a high gravity affair. So: Jason had been flippant and I was already in a kind of neurological hijacking. I called the BP a bunch of ableists.

There it was. Jason and I were both caught on the horns of a dilemma. Brooklyn Poets needed a new space, was under time pressures to find one, tried to locate an accessible venue, and then signed a five year lease for an inaccessible space, hoping they could fix the problems–and as most disability activists know, suddenly there were roadblocks–the Landmarks Preservation people, the landlord, etc. Brooklyn Poets had hoped they could fix the problems. And indeed, even now, they’re working to solve the inaccessibility issues. And yes, every event they’re hosting will be online simultaneously.

But here’s where the Zoom got really interesting. I mentioned Sascha Costanza Chock’s book “Design Justice” which argues that design should be a reflection of community values. If you’re a trans person or a guide dog user you’re always going to cause a problem with the TSA people. We talked about having community spaces that are truly welcoming for all.

Suddenly, where before, and in part because of the fight or flee endorphins of social media, I found myself in a rich and encouraging dialogue with two social activists who understand the future can’t be like the past. Jason is a Korean-American poet who’s experienced the alienating dynamics of white lit culture. renee is a trans activist. As we talked we realized how for each of us, this business of writing and advocating from the margins is truly intersectional.

The folks at Brooklyn Poets made a mistake. But then I made a mistake. They are good people and the future is going to be more just, theirs and ours.

A Graphic Novel for the Blind

Each day I set pen to paper
The pen is entirely in my head
Paper is far away in the future
I say think what you want
Release the crows
From their cages

**

I feel sorry for the sighted
Scanning tiny boxes
Looking to break free
From tyrannies of plot
Like owning a bust of Stalin
Which you have to explain

**

Now an old man comes down the street
A kind of scrawny angel
Pushing a bent bicycle
Spokes flashing in the sun
He’s a Korean war veteran
Compared to him
Everyone else
is motionless

**

Then again it’s just me: “Trace
The veins of a barberry leaf
That’s Braille enough…”
In sidelong darkness
When the day is insufficient
Minutes not feeding me
Up river go the words
The outcast words
Oh anything will do

**

Here come the dancers, half Greek half sky
Fragrance of goat’s milk and iron—
All day, blind, alone, talking to myself
(For that’s how it was
Lonely kid telling stories to no one
In a bomb shelter, 1960
Already in love with Hercules
Who must have had friends.)

**

As I grow older
My hands open more slowly
Maybe they know more
What’s empty turns its face to us
Said a good poet, long ago
My left hand agrees, longs to touch her
My right is stoical
Leaves fingerprints
Like tracks of deer in snow

Disability Access, Brooklyn Poets, and the Collective Struggle

Last night I had a “Zoom” with poet Jason Koo who directs “Brooklyn Poets” a literary collective in, you guessed it, Brooklyn, NY. Also joining us was renee kay the BP Associate Director. To be frank I wish more folks in the arts–and who necessarily are “on” social media–could have conversations like the one we just had.

At issue: Brooklyn Poets has opened a new performance space at 144 Montague Street which is on the second floor of a mixed use building and isn’t wheelchair accessible. I raised the question about the accessibility of the space on their Facebook page and they confirmed the problem.

So we began our convo talking about Hemingway’s “iceberg” theory. The biggest parts of a story are always hidden–the writer hints at things unseen. Stay with me here.

I can’t speak for all disabled artists. But I “am” a disabled poet who publishes disability poetry and speaks about disability rights. I said disability is everywhere once you learn to look for it. Even if you don’t think it’s close by, it is.

Jason Koo made the initial mistake of responding to my Facebook query about accessibility with irritation. He said, quite rightly, that he didn’t know who I was and he doesn’t respond quickly to people he doesn’t know.

Full stop. Jason is a Korean-American poet who has the emotional candor and critical thinking to admit his mistake. Me? I shared with him that our preliminary FB exchange happened on the heels of my having been denied two Uber rides because I travel with a guide dog and even though this is against the law, shit like this happens to the disabled all the time. Living in the civic square as a cripple is a high gravity affair. So: Jason had been flippant and I was already in a kind of neurological hijacking. I called the BP a bunch of ableists. They are not.

There it was. Jason and I were both caught on the horns of a dilemma. Brooklyn Poets needed a new space, was under time pressures to find one, tried to locate an accessible venue, and then signed a five year lease for an inaccessible space, hoping they could fix the problems–and as most disability activists know, suddenly there were roadblocks–the Landmarks Preservation people, the landlord, etc. Brooklyn Poets had hoped they could fix the problems. And indeed, even now, they’re working to solve the inaccessibility issues. And yes, every event they’re hosting will be online simultaneously.

But here’s where the Zoom got really interesting. I mentioned Sascha Costanza Chock’s book “Design Justice” which argues that design should be a reflection of community values. If you’re a trans person or a guide dog user you’re always going to cause a problem with the TSA people. We talked about having community spaces that are truly welcoming for all.

Suddenly, where before, and in part because of the fight or flee endorphins of social media, I found myself in a rich and encouraging dialogue with two social activists who understand the future can’t be like the past. Jason is a Korean-American poet who’s experienced the alienating dynamics of white lit culture. renee is a trans activist. As we talked we realized how for each of us, this business of writing and advocating from the margins is truly intersectional.

The folks at Brooklyn Poets made a mistake. But then I made a mistake. They are good people and the future is going to be more just, theirs and ours.

A Letter to Boy Blue

In Helsinki, Finland, during my childhood I first understood people can be vicious. I was a small boy and climbing stairs in the old apartment building near the harbor–holding my dad’s hand, climbing, the steps curved like inside a lighthouse, my blindness talking to my feet. You understand–this is an early memory, 1958 most likely. An old woman approached us coming down from above and seeing me said in blue blood Swedish (for she was a member of Finland’s small Swedish speaking minority): “Tsk, Tsk, barna blind…” Tsk, tisk needs no translation, even to a boy. I was a blind child, and there, on that stairwell, in the curving darkness, I received my brand–was branded. My father ignored her by shrugging and we kept climbing.

“Even a minor event in the life of a child is an event of that child’s world and thus a world event.” The words are Gaston Bachelard’s and I’ve puzzled over them for years. My minor event, the naming of my blindness took place in the Scandinavian winter on a dark stairwell and I absorbed some very unrefined ideas about physical difference and human worth–knew them instantly–but how could this ever be a world event? As I see it after all these years dear blue, there are two ways Bachelard can be right. The first is that the old woman’s contempt becomes a cathected and insupportable incitement, the seed of what Carl Jung would call a “complex” thereby draining my life of self-esteem, maybe even stealing my curiosity. The second is this small, nearly infinitesimal occasion turns me to making things. In both scenarios Bachelard is correct. In both cases a child’s world grows upward and outward and influences many people over a lifetime.

One day I wrote a poem about my boyhood incident.

“No Name For It”

Start with a hyphenated word, something Swedish—
Rus-blind; “blind-drunk”; blinda-flacken; “blind-spot”;

Blind-pipa; “non-entity”, “a type of ghost.”
En blind hona hittar ocksa ett korn;

“The fool’s arrow sometimes hits the mark.”
(That’s what the Swedish matron said

When I was a boy climbing stairs.)
She pointed with a cane:

Tsk tsk,
Barna-blind; “blind-child.”

Her tone mixed piety and reproof—pure Strindberg!
It echoed on the stairs, barna-blind—

“Blind from birth”;
En blind hona hittar…

The blind child’s arrow….

**

Dear Blue: I wasn’t really a blind child at all, but one of the ghosts who rang Strindberg’s doorbell. I see this now but only through the poem. Strindberg imagined spirits were ringing his doorbell, saw them in the ambient light at twilit windows–things a blind child would know as facts rather than fancies. So in my private life, I’m a practical joker without doing a thing. I ring the old man’s doorbell with nothing more than a glance. I’ve hidden myself in the bushes. I will leap out when the lights go dark at his windows. I shall invade his solitude by means of the newly invented electric doorbell. I will do all this with nothing more than a glance.

Do you understand, Dear Blue, one night some thirty years ago, I met a drunken man in a bar in Estonia. He was very old. He claimed to have been a childhood prankster who tormented Strindberg. I thought then, and think now, how beautiful and sweetly unclear the facts are. I think how the unconscious works by means of animal faith. We go forward and upward by means of trust and laughter. I’d have tormented the old play write if I’d had a chance. Instead I grew up with a blind child’s arrow, a different trick, for I hit things askance and often produced a slanted music–an effect adagio and almost wrong though the credulous mind embraces it after all. Blue, I like Beethoven’s last string quartets. I like broken windows in abandoned country houses. I like crows on telephone wires and Boolean Algebra and rain in winter. I like whispers. I’ve always liked whispers.