Sitting in the railway station got a ticket for my destination, woo hoo, and the late December light falls over my hair from a high window though I can’t see it being visually impaired, woo hoo, but there’s heat on my dome, woo hoo, and because I read mucho poetry in my youth, I’ve got lines by Lorca: “A remembrance is moving down the long memory disturbing the delicate leaves with its dry feet…” Oh my bird, my dead singer, pal of my childhood, how good it is to have you back. And I am holding still without turning my head.
I feel the tongues of the old poets
They again tell their stories, snake like,
Of first wonders, pleiades and wind
Dreaming of dead friends
All of them strangely happy
Though they’re grey as donkeys
We children hid among trees and watched the old woman who we’d been told “had a lobotomy”and we saw her as a witch. We dug into our foxhole. She came out of her trailer home and swept her garden path with a broom. We were speechless, separate, ambiguous little creatures in the presence of nameless adult suffering. This is why pastoral verse is hopeless.
This is why memories in the middle of the night can’t be assuaged by TV. The sadness of others sweeps us. Caesar knew.
I get down on my knees and touch the ground. If forgiveness isn’t possible at least I can tap some Morse Code…
—for Ralph Savarese and Sam Pereira
Staid Ianthe unbuttons for me
Though I don’t subscribe to Poetry;
Here’s Childe Harold “refreshed”
(The mode is attic—not so much
Of fashion, misbehaved but touched)
The old girl says a poem is where
We find it…We looked in the reviews,
Found a few quirts to approve,
Short poems as Poe would have them—
We were “turned on” and juicy
Like any reader who’s sappy
But most of the stuff was, well
You know—earnest, too steady
For joy—childish, wanting concurrence
Which, as Byron understood
Will ruin the dinner party
“And yet methinks the older that one grows
Inclines us more to laugh than scold, though laughter
Leaves us so doubly serious shortly after.”
The little magazines are a drear matter
No amusements there; no champagne no lobster
As Ianthe puts it, and her sisters
Agree, water logged though they are
Drowning beats a moistureless journal…
Well here it is, my first blog post of 2023, an occasion for my loyal readers (who’ve come to expect perspicacity’s child to deliver the goods on important days.)
Alright. Ahem. Fuck Vladimir Putin.
I don’t know about you but I feel better.
And the same goes for his North American apologists. We know who they are.
Here’s where I experience one of those Jim Gaffigan sotto voce moments: “can’t he say something positive on the first day of the new year?”
Fuck Putin and Tucker Carlson.
Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un jump off a cliff. Who wins?
Answer: the world…
Here’s to the US media being true to the story:
Putin is committing genocide against the people of Ukraine.
They’re not currently bombing my house but I’m in this war. They’re not killing my immediate neighbors but I’m grieving and shaking my puny fist. When I plumb the depths of myself I’ve only nursery rhymes and the golden rule. After fifty years of reading great books this is all I have. Baa Baa Blacksheep and Do Unto Others. War scrambles everything. I’m enraged and weeping. Putin long ago perfected warfare against civilians. How do you like your bromides now little man?
Not so long ago I took a train to New York City just to walk around. I’m shocked and winnowed. Walking without a destination. Blind walking. Standing beside a food cart and smelling the chestnuts. I wonder how many others are doing this? Absorbing precious seconds against the backdrop of terror?
Keep believing in life. Keep believing in strangers.
First thing in New York and following in Auden’s footsteps I went into a dive bar. The bartender welcomed me and my guide dog. I drank an Irish lager. The dog had some water. Keep believing in strangers.
Putin puts strangers together who evince the larger goodness of humanity. It’s a shame they must meet while enraged and weeping.
And one day you are old. You take out your astrolabe and realize you’re not so old as all that, but you’re a man and so, despite all the American promises of eternal life through consumption, you are finally a grey fungus in the garden. You decide this isn’t so bad. You are the best of the fungi. The moles come and touch their noses to your head. Children think of you as a little house. But yes you are old. In private you laugh about it. In public you put on that grim face called “getting on with it” which younger people interpret as heartlessness. In fact its the opposite of heartlessness, its the countenance of too much feeling.
“Getting older happens suddenly. It’s like swimming out to sea and realising that the shore you’re making for isn’t the shore where you started out.”
― Jeanette Winterson, The Gap of Time
Of course if you’re disabled as I am, and have been so for a long time as I have, the shore you’re intending for was always imaginary, a place of fictive acceptance and so being old simply magnifies how unreal this always was for now you’re blind and old and thereby doubly ignorable. Sometimes you tell yourself being ignored is the best of the matter. That’s because you’re a two-fold problem in the public square and they let you know it. You realize you need a tee shirt that reads: “I’m the best mushroom in the garden.”
Some days a silent language is all you need.
Once, riding a train in Finland I sat beside three old women. They knew one another well. You could see it in their postures, their long familiarity. One was knitting. One had a book. The third looked out the window. Every now and then one of them would say a confirmatory thing—“snowing again” or “coffee?” It was easy to be in their company. I was a young man writing poetry and starting to sense the delicacies of language and consciousness. “Snowing again” had traveled ten thousand years to be spoken just then, just there.
In the USA they don’t understand this kind of thing. The young, who mostly don’t like themselves are battering and bartering in the terror state of post-industrial capitalism and therefore, alas, they imagine silence and moving slowly are twin defeats. They could be right, but only one day a week. The rest of time belongs to the heartsore old who’ve found ways to make agreements with dwindling.
As a boy I remember other boys taunting me for being blind. Some threw stones. Melancholy isn’t sadness. It comes later and steals up on you from within. Today we call it depression but like everything else with our language it doesn’t capture the nuances and tinctures of melancholy which are composed of love and desperation and something akin to crying for the moon. But whatever its recipe melancholy started for me that day in 1960 when the boys threw stones and sang a song about me and I retreated to the unoccupied spaces for the miserably identified—places oh so familiar to children and adults with disabilities. Oh I’ve squeezed some poetry out of those attics and bomb shelters. Melancholy may not be the muse but she’s got her number. And melancholy loves anyone who cries for the moon.
You’re old now, so when you cry for the moon you do it differently than you did it as a child. The song these days is about the moon’s effect on the night grass and not about lost love.
There are many ways to ruin a holiday and some involve reading. On Christmas morning I read George Will’s “Washington Post” column on higher education. Mr. Will thinks colleges and universities have become bloated compounds of political correctness, enforcing “pc values” on forlorn students and faculty. He blames this able-bodied, white man’s gotterdamerung on diversity, equity and inclusion offices and argues that diversity awareness stands in opposition to the good, fair minded curricula of a bygone age. One wonders when that was? Was it at Harvard when they were teaching Theodore Roosevelt the “white man’s burden” or when they were treating Helen Keller as a specious curiosity to be regarded on sufferance? Perhaps it was when the gays stayed in their closets and no people of color ever troubled the washrooms or the imagination? Will and his conservative ilk claim that the untidy democratization of the agora has ruined their guest towels. As a disabled man who’s struggled to get an education, who knows that the history of the marginalized can’t be understood without scholarship, I charge Will with having an ugly design: to stamp out inquiry with greater intolerance than anyone who seeks to embrace multiculturalism.
In the middle of everything
Walking winter streets
With an empty drinking glass
In this imagined
With a great library
In the fingers
Of my gloves
Call me when
To talk about
What can’t be said
In the middle of everything
Trees tell the time
The dappled trees
Talking a great deal
About the nature of life
Seeing what can be had
Before it all
Moon snow laughter
Its not winter
Its the heart’s shared ice
If you ask me about late day shadows
I can give you an impression—
They are like the face within a face
As with so many things
The fierce beauties…
Poets have much to say
About what we never become
Ruin and river—
The threads in life’s coat
Speak to the weather
Its the oldest artwork of all
On the street in winter
You can see people talking to themselves
I think of Auden’s line: “All we are not stares back at what we are.”
Where is home from here?
Come the hours
And the language of hours
But I prefer the first winter
When shelter was all
Thinking of Auden in Winter Rain…
Raise your little fist—
Time says nothing
Water on your wrist
You know the towns I think
Where, passing through
You say to yourself
“This was the best they could do”
When the day is insufficient
Minutes not feeding me
Up river go the words
The outcast words
Oh anything will do
I was a lonely child
I couldn’t see and I’d go outside
and shout “Is anybody out here?”
Sometimes other kids wouldn’t answer
Why play with the blind kid—
he just ruins the baseball game?
Is anybody out here?
Trees in a light grey indefinite
The look of snow just fallen
I come home half forgetting who I am,
Checking myself—who walked the bridge,
Held a confidence, affirmed love
From branching directions?
Sadness comes from another life
To which we’re returning
Silly to think on it—
But I’ve always been happy
Even in the psychiatric hospital…
It’s a faint taste at first
Behind the tongue…