Getting lost at the carnival involved disregard for authority…a morning notebook…

Getting lost at the carnival involved disregard for authority. I’d gone there with my seedy, antisocial high school pals. In the haunted house ride I leapt from the car and hid behind a Frankenstein’s monster. As I fought to keep upright what with the cables around my feet I saw how capitalism creates fetish-commodified screams with pasteboard and volts.

**

Boston never looked more brilliant: aloof, magisterial and vaguely hostile—which is to say it looked like itself.

**

I have to hurry
Rain in the mind is coming
Windows are open—
A field of flowers
Is waving
This man
Misshapen
Inside the dusk
Is waiting
When he should be running
He’s going to flower into song

**

The old heart
With its black napkin
Waving in my chest

The bus passes the funeral home
Tonight I’m half soul, half body
I must be doing something right

**

“But there is another, deeper reason why even atheist inhabitants of the postmodern world must take account of Milton’s ideas. To return to a point made in the Introduction, our world is ruled by a force that everyone now recognizes as supernatural: money. Having finally abandoned its material manifestations, money appears only in symbolic form and truly exists only within the mind. What we get from Milton is an understanding of that force and, even more vitally, a comprehensive explanation of why the particular, peculiar way in which money behaves today is evil.”

Excerpt From: David Hawkes. “John Milton.” Apple Books.

**

What is a family after all but a stand of trees in an open field?

**

But there’s much more to think about.

Dancing for instance.

**

“In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a fifteen-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.”

Excerpt From: “Bullshit Jobs.” Apple Books.

**

Buddha said: “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

**

I once translated a poem from Finnish which contained the lines: “sometimes I see a child/ see in him what I was like/and I want to say I’m sorry.”

**

A friend wrote…

He didn’t sleep
Not even in the dark.
He walked in leaves
Lay down
Beneath the moon

He thought he’d catch a nap
But in America
it was
A bad time
So he gathered straw

For sleeplessness
Made himself
A poet nest
While the wars
Went on and on.

**

    “Such terrible coughing, as if someone was                         breathing live birds.”

                —Paavo Haavikko 

**

No one can describe the happiness of others. We’re like dogs barking at hieroglyphs when we talk about emotion.
Christ I spent years studying poetry and I know its all a dream, this business of inter-personal comprehension. I hardly know myself. About my life I recognize only a few bare details.

**

This morning
I shake the green leaves down
For I’ve nowhere to go
Autumn already

**

“The answer clearly isn’t economic: it’s moral and political. The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger.”

Excerpt From: “Bullshit Jobs.” Apple Books.

**

Poetry isn’t a bullshit job once you inure yourself to building and maintaining your own invisible steamboat.

**

I’m walking home after a night of carousing. I’m 25, heartily youthful, so in love with the world my lips twitch, and in the coming years I’ll often talk to myself.

“You’re horse is beautiful,” I say to a cop, peering upward in rosy air. The horse is very tall and the man is tall and they are far above in emerging light.

Opening Northern Windows, or, the Toxic Dinner

Who am I? I’m the one who upsets the even tenor of every dinner party. I use words like justice without irony. Therefore I’m unpleasant. I’m actually quite dreadful. I question the bug-eyed vanities, draw a chalk line down the middle of the table, distrust easy agreement. As a blind man easy agreement has never worked for me. From Kindergarten on I’ve been made to wear the hair shirt of difference. Racism, ableism, trans-phobia, all the bigotries are territorial. As Ibram X. Kendri puts it: “Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy. It’s a pretty easy mistake to make: People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.”

Do you want to upset the even tenor of the party? Make it clear you don’t worship the thought habits of those you’re with. I’ve always admired the poet Kenneth Rexroth who could really ruin a social occasion. He wrote:

“Since all society is organized in the interest of exploiting classes and since if men knew this they would cease to work and society would fall apart, it has always been necessary, at least since the urban revolutions, for societies to be governed ideologically by a system of fraud.”

He added: “The state does not tax you to provide you with services. The state taxes you to kill you. The services are something which it has kidnapped from you in your organic relations with your fellow man, to justify its police and war-making powers. It provides no services at all. There is no such thing as a social contract. This is just an eighteenth-century piece of verbalism.”

**
Back to Kendri:

“Antiracists have long argued that racial discrimination was stamped from the beginning of America, which explains why racial disparities have existed and persisted. Unlike segregationists and assimilationists, antiracists have recognized that the different skin colors, hair textures, behaviors, and cultural ways of Blacks and Whites are on the same level, are equal in all their divergences. As the legendary Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde lectured in 1980: “We have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals.”

**

We have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals.

Another way to say this—not that anything Audre Lorde wrote needs improving—is that each citizen is trapped in a province. One must never forget the Trayvon Martin was murdered in a gated community.

You’ll ruin a lot of dinner parties by arguing against provincialism.

I once told a group of disability studies professors they weren’t sufficiently devoted to accessibility for the blind. Just about all of the 60 people in attendance had eyesight.

This view was not greeted with enthusiasm. Even within the disability community you’ll find gated places.

The fancy term is ophto-centrism—the eyes have it. All hail the eyes. If the blind can’t fully participate that’s “on them” for at least we allowed them in the room.

I’ll screw up the dinner party because I’m willing to say the blind aren’t fully welcome in whatever it is we mean by disability studies in the academy. And let me add, if you squawk about it you’ll be judged and not kindly. I’ve actually been told if my behavior was better I might get the access I need. Try that on, little fella!

**

Rexroth: “Television is designed to arouse the most perverse, sadistic, acquisitive drives. I mean, a child’s television program is a real vision of hell, and it’s only because we are so used to these things that we pass them over. If any of the people who have had visions of hell, like Virgil or Dante or Homer, were to see these things it would scare them into fits.”

Racism and all the bigotries of the media…yes we’re making progress but have you looked at the miserable faux disability representations still being cranked out?

How about the eugenics narratives in popular books and films?
“Million Dollar Baby” or Jojo Moyes?

Please stop imagining you are inferior. And find different dinner companions.

Call Me When You’re Home

This poem wants to be a description
But first I need a phone call
With news
About a terrible book—

No one calls
To rub souls

I can’t give a picture
Of the unfalsifiable me.

Meanwhile:

Back at the ranch a dog shows up,
He can’t say where he’s been
But it made him agreeable

He stole something along the road
And has a general richness.

No one calls with ideas
No one calls just to rub souls
And I can’t give a picture
Of unfalsifiable me

And of course the night is dark and long

Of Trigger Warnings and Kropotkin with Some Disability Perspective Thrown In for Free

Students today want affirmations of their world views and a sense of safety when they enter classrooms. These desires are not always easy when it comes to “agon” or intellectual struggle but I understand why students want these things. The world is ugly and violent and assurance and safety are human values and shouldn’t be utopian.

Alongside this crucial desire for safety is the fact that universities have priced higher-ed so “high” students are right to think of themselves as customers–which means “I don’t like this dish, send it back.” I recall years ago a faculty colleague telling me of a student who asked him “what do you want?” when a paper assignment was handed out. He replied: “I want a trip to Paris.” Today’s student is perfectly reasonable in asking, “what do I want?” If universities wish to get out of this trap they need to cut the cost of education and train faculty better when it comes to diversity.

I posted the paragraphs above on Facebook and think now I should elaborate.

I’m blind. My entire experience in secondary education has been painful. There’s no other way to say it. As a college student, a grad student, then a junior professor, and now a senior faculty member the ableism that’s marked my works and days has been consistent. Moreover, as I’ve written more than once, non-disabled faculty and staff are often unhelpful even as they proclaim progressive values of all kinds. Disability is poorly accepted in universities. The best book on the subject is Jay Dolmage’s “Academic Ableism” which I continue to recommend far and wide.

When BIPOC students say they’re not being heard I get it. I’ve been unheard for so long I feel like a Victorian umbrella stand. Dominant culture–whether patriarchal or driven by white fragility or homophobia or ableism is inured to hearing from the historically marginalized. Worse is the assumption many professors and college administrators fall prey to–namely because they’ve read about oppression they think they’re sufficiently schooled on the matter. The white professor says to himself, “don’t tell me about your struggle, I’ve read James Baldwin” and the ableist prof thinks having seen “The Miracle Worker” with Patty Duke he knows all about blindness. I’m not exaggerating.

Students who say they feel unsafe in classrooms are telling the truth. Old school dismissal of this is beside the point. I’ve heard some faculty say the demands for trigger warnings regarding uncomfortable material are ridiculous–it’s a violation of academic freedom; it’s time wasting namby-pamby-ism. But at the core one must ask whose discomfort are we talking about?

When I enter a classroom with my guide dog students are faced the prospect of a wholly unique and foreign scholar. You can feel the tension. Unspoken sure. Present and palpable absolutely. My appearance demands some kind of narrative. Certainly I don’t have to explain my blindness but it’s good for everyone if we talk about what a guide dog is and what she does. It’s also good to take that opportunity to talk about mutual respect, our culture, fragility and vulnerability, and how we can best learn together. This has never failed me as an instructor.

How has the world changed since I went to graduate school? How is it better and how is it worse? How have students been affected by thirty years of eroding support for education, rising housing costs, or a growing awareness that the very university may to be unsafe?

I don’t believe sincere apologies from faculty who fail to provide trigger warnings should be ignored or dismissed by students as seems to have happened recently at the University of Michigan but I take it that our duty as professors is to bring students together in what Kropotkin called “mutual aid” even though he meant it somewhat differently.

Stealing from One of My Own Poems

Stealing from One of My Own Poems

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

Have you seen the black geese
Eating cold rowan berries?
Trust me the soul has “if-freedoms.”

**

Yes yes if the soul gets loose…

Lately I’ve been laughing
Like one who’s been rowing all day
In an open boat.

**

I like the poets of “if” who are many. Lucille Clifton: “I rise up above myself/like a fish flying…”; Lucy Brock Broido: “I, abstract, adoring, distant/And unsalvageable.”; Marvin Bell: “The “I” in the poem is not you but someone who knows a lot about you.”; Martín Espada: “The poet’s house was a city of glass:”

**

Blind and getting old I re-read Milton.
His Jesus is theoretical
While his Satan is real.

Meanwhile crossing the street
Shadow vehicles from all directions.

**

If shows off its Kyoto armor of black dragon scales.
If wants nothing—which makes it
A chess problem for the imagination.
If is an amber glow over the village.
If will catch you but not today.
If says no blank space here.
If wants to run you to death.
If knows full well the hill’s shadow.

**

Year after year and my old mother in her grave.
I choose to believe her cares are lifted.
The only thing I willfully imagine.
You shouldn’t care about my habits
Of mind so forgive me. The branches
Of the yew are fragrant.
Small birds I can’t identify
Are high in its branches.
My heart beats steadily.
“Why” wrote Ikkyu,
“Is it all so beautiful, this false dream,
This craziness, why?”
Morning smells of pines.
The little dog raises his sweet face my way.
Walls of memory come down.
Again I’m a young student translating a poem:
You came close. Hoar frost and snow was coming on. Clouds and branches at the windows. All night the stars were like a song. I went in, singing their song, step by step.

In discrete moments this life, this branch with its birds makes sense.

If and if.
And violence seems unreal just now.

Hammer

Blind I have a problem with the hammer. I know there are blind carpenters but please don’t call me when you want to hang a picture. Meanwhile there’s always someone in the rain with a hammer.

I say cripples wave two hammers. I’ve always thought of my crippled friends as “Thor”—Thor’s hammer, which was made by the dwarves, according to Snorri, has lightning on the inside where it counts.

Anyway I’ve been in New York City for the past two days. The city is a hard place for the disabled. I must find strangers to hail cabs because taxi drivers won’t stop for guide dog users. You go into unfamiliar shops where the staff won’t speak to you. In other words the famous New York fuck you is doubly present if a cripple is around. The shopkeeper thinks: “I have to deal with assholes all day and now what, I have to deal with you too?” In Macy’s I asked a staff person to help me find the men’s section. When we got there she said to a salesman: “I had to bring him here. Now he’s yours.”

He’s yours all right. He’s your brother. He’s useful because he has Thor’s hammer. He can turn ordinary minutes into legends. He can see Snorri’s dwarves behind the mannequins.

Shovel

Now and then someone decides to improve you. You know how this goes. “Instead of shoveling dirt my friend why not use a banjo?” You know they mean well. You see it in their earnest hand gestures. Trouble is, you like your shovel. It’s been handed down in the family for a hundred years. The blade wobbles and it needs a shim but it still works just as you do. You can’t imagine digging with a banjo. Then you understand: they meant you should sing the dirt away. Of course! Yes, it’s still stupid but it makes sense. You promise you’ll revisit this in the future.

By the River

If you think you’re getting somewhere think again.
The muddy landscape ignores you…

There’s no button you can push
And though “you’re good with animals”

You don’t know them.
Here on a long trembling bridge

Of trade offs
One falls backwards

Into the emptying self.
Oh c’mon Casper!

Cheer up!
Just chew a map!

This is of course
A kind of pleading…

Yes I wanted to get some place
Walking with the slyness of good faith

Eating paper.

To My Future Biographer If She Exists

I love reading biographies. In an odd way, for me, it doesn’t matter very much who the book is about. The thing I like is narrative fidelity to oddness. If history cleans things up, or at least attempts to, the biographer keeps things messy. I like knowing that whatever passed for the erotic in Charles Dickens’ life caused him to be dishonest and often cruel, that he cultivated the public’s affection by inventing the literary reading. Dickens wanted to be liked though he was heartless; though he paraded sentimentality before his family and his readers in lieu of whatever it is we mean when we talk of self awareness. Charles Dickens had very little emotional intelligence. That’s “oddness” for sure. He was one of us.

If someone wrote my biography I think in all fairness the writer would have to say I wanted to be liked—wanted it too much—wanted it the way a blind child remains inside the man and still fingers the worry beads he played with in solitude. (His father had gone to the Middle East and came home from Beirut with beads he could finger and slide on a string, an accoutrement of loneliness.)

I wanted to be liked but like most of us, found ways to sabotage the hope. Life does this. The super ego is a hydra headed thing. You meant well when you placed lawn ornaments outside your house—they were inoffensive, or so you thought, a soap stone skunk and a daisy wheel. You didn’t know your next door neighbor dislikes chachkas, dislikes them the way some dislike dogs. You couldn’t have imagined he’d come by at night and kick them over. Your neighbor, an older man, no moist teenager. All you’d wanted was a little joy. You hadn’t thought a soap stone skunk would incite the old insurance man’s shadow—that Jungian nexus of subconscious anger and projection that’s largely unimpeachable if you spend time among human beings. The nasty neighbor saw too much of his own repressed pleasure in your innocuous skunk.

If someone wrote my biography I hope she’d say the setbacks didn’t set me back much. Wanting to be liked is only a tragic circumstance if you don’t possess irony. I hope she’d say I had plenty of irony. I could enjoy bad music when I had to. I could like people who didn’t share my core beliefs. I hope she’d say I climbed a security fence when I was young, in order to sit all night in a Greek temple. I was in a Lord Byron phase.

I hope she doesn’t say I loved animals more than people, though that’s a tempting thing.

Like Dickens I could be self-deceiving, though not in my personal relationships. And I don’t mean thievery. But while I profess to being an Episcopalian, I have sometimes supported military solutions to intractable problems. Thirteen years ago I thought the United States should invade Afghanistan. Now I see why the sermon on the mount doesn’t have footnotes. After 9/11 I tried to juggle my beliefs to fit circumstances. I pray for forgiveness. I try to learn from my transgressions.

I make up stupid songs; dance around the house until my wife has to retreat.

I struggle with my temper when I see gay people, transgendered people, people of color, foreigners, the disabled, women, you name it—when I see the marginalized being further marginalized.

In any event I wasn’t one of those blind people, who, having a tough childhood, grew up to pretend he wasn’t disabled.

Randomized Breakfast

It’s hardly news that evil-doers in films are often deformed and disabled characters. The Bond franchise alone is flooded with crippled meanies: Dr. No’s hand, Blofeld in his power wheelchair, etc.

Frankly I’ve always wanted to be an evil disabled chemist. I want to turn wine back into water at the Country Club or put truth serum in Preparation H.

**

Well poets don’t tell the truth much, too busy bathing the peacocks
Walking lonesome in the harbor, Helsinki, spices in the air—
First time I was productively isolate, singing softly
Up river or down the road, all my friends lived far away.
When I think on it now I’m still twenty three among the Baltic gulls
Humming “My Funny Valentine.”
Wind from Estonia blowing darkness against my cheek…
Looking warily at strangers, thinking:
Imagine well of me, oh, and glance just so
To Say everything will be OK…
I wasn’t yet patient or experienced, but could tell it so…

**

But I Can’t

Blindness says nothing but I told you so,
It only knows the price you have to pay.
If I could tell you I would let you know.
If I could tell you I would let you know.

**

Don’t moan!
Just pull your hair

**

Who appointed you? Nah. Forget Spinoza. I mean “who” besides your mother told you your thoughts are worth a damn?

“Well, when I was a boy the postman said I was smart.”

**

Happiness crawls in and out of me like that childhood song about the worms…

**

How beautiful to see we are still funny. Five friends and no one is selling anything. Though one of us who has lost a lot of weight lifts up his shirt and I say if he keeps this kind of display up, a piano will fall on him. The dog walks into the room with her dish clutched in her teeth. A five point buck looks in the window. Any moment now, Dr. Doolittle will drop by for coffee. We are just laughing animals. Save the human textbook for tomorrow.

**

Carl Jung thought the plants were talking to us. I’m with him.

**

I want you to understand me. I come from one or two regions beyond the blurry pasture. The dark pines are engraved with the bold eyes of my sleep. Here I am, new to this day. What should I do?