Disabled Go Home

My friend and fellow disability rights blogger William Peace has a couple of posts over at his blog “Bad Cripple” which outline the apparent massive indifference of the Obama people and the Congressional transition people when it comes to assuring that the presidential inaugural events will be accessible to people with disabilities. In short: the official line is “stay at home” and one might as well add the phrase: “you people.”

Bill points out that he tried unsuccessfully to attend an Obama campaign event and you can read more about that over at his site. What’s clear is that whether we’re talking about campaign events or public ceremonies the de facto operating principle where ableist planners are concerned is to say “this isn’t our responsibility” –a time honored matter where disability and access are concerned no matter what the venue.

So there’s a gap between campaign positions (Obama has affirmed the rights of people with disabilities) and the facts as they appear on the ground. The ground of course is where pwds have to live, work, navigate, and prosper just like all citizens.

When you really think about it, leaving disabled people out of the planning means that the planning is guaranteed to be nothing more than a factory issue Pamplona style running of the bulls in which no citizen is treated with dignity. Or to spin this another way: if you’re making the transportation and the seating accessible you’re also creating dignified human spaces for all.

But the worst thing about this story is  the cavalier rhetoric of the transition officials. Stay home means just what it means. And its demeaning as she goes.



If I Wasn't Me or You

Can you read poetry if you have no moral base? By reading I mean of course that one carries away the aesthetics of the matter. I don’t just mean the shapes evoked by images or the sounds but the grains of philosophy–the hard to define   reasoning that both the poet and the reader must do whether they like it or not. Frost says famously at the end of a very famous poem: “And that has made all the difference” and we understand him because we too must make incontestable moral choices each and every day. Frost chose to write narrative poems about his rural neighbors thus giving them places in the Parthenon of American culture and if you think that’s too imposing a figure let me add that Frost’s poems are the most widely read poetic works of the 20th century and that’s a matter that isn’t going out of fashion anytime soon.

But if I were a bad man would  I read poetry? This is a silly question of course. I am a flawed man but I believe in the social contract; demand equal rights for all. What kind of a question is this? I might as well start talking about what the next life will be like. But wait.

You see the thing is I’m a neo-Platonist. I think art should delight as well as instruct. By “delight” I don’t mean things have to be cheerful. Substitute if you like the word “engaging” or “puts a spell on you” and that’s just fine. But art instructs because it demonstrates the mind working at better solutions than mere sensation. What does it mean to be seeing, hearing, eating, loving, worshipping, fighting, running, birthing, standing alone? What does it mean and how did the meaning arrive?

When works of art deliver something like a partial answer to these mysteries I’m grateful to the woman or man who took that path. The smaller man inside me is instructed. He’s reassured there’s a reason to all this navigation and itching and circling we do down here on this planet.

Stalin famously enjoyed playing a gramophone record of wolves howling. He’d make his guests dance to the record and if they didn’t dance they’d be killed if not in that moment then surely the next day. And the guests danced over and over as Stalin turned the crank and watched them with his feral eyes.

Safe to say he didn’t require poetry. He knew it would complicate the minds of readers; knew that poets had to be stopped. The immoral mind discourages choices and all complexities.

Several years ago I was invited to meet with men in prison, “lifers” all, most of them in jail for having murdered someone; all of them were now raising puppies for a guide dog school in Ohio.

These men wanted to meet a real guide dog user: a blind person who was out in the world and traveling and who could talk to them about the end user’s experiences.

What I found was a room full of men with a shared passion for doing something that was arguably good, unambiguously good. They were pouring out their hearts and souls to their puppies and to each other and then to me.

Criminal acts do not invariably derive from immorality. Complexity and beauty can be in the most unforseen places. I read those good guys a poem about my first guide dog Corky which describes how she guided me around New York City.

No one knows at face value who is moral or who lacks all redemption. That’s why we read and write the poems; why we keep with whatever troubles our assumptions.

“See life steadily,” said Kenneth Rexroth . “See it whole.”

Stately Plump Buck Mulligan

Descended the stairs. He had plans. He wasn’t thinking at  all about his creator. He was thinking about shaving, how he wished it didn’t take so long. He had plans. The small things got in the way. The cup of tea and the morning Times got in the way. The baffled eurhythmia of his heart got in the way. The incontestable, folded  napkins of his brain got in the way. Memories of a violin lessons; scratched windows layered with ice; a stray dog; corner druggist with a birth mark; cold hands of a lover; odors of a fountain; nostalgia for a boyhood horse; electrolysis of the eucharist–bread and flesh and blood to wash it down and down into the foaming guts of a skittish boy; half moon reflected in spectacles; card games in polite society; these got in the way. Meantime his small, girlish feet found each step of the stairs; he held his razor. He was unaware of his creator. The blind watchmaker who, leaning close to the page knows time is simply music and the pale, diurnal city is entirely fiction. 



The Art of Listening

This morning I gave a talk at Pacific University’s MFA program on the art of listening and I ended my remarks  by playing an opera aria  recorded 100 years ago by the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso. My remarks at the end of the talk were extemporaneous and I shall try to recapture them at the bottom of this talk and there you will also find a link to the aria.




I shal paraphrase from Stravinsky:

“Hearing has no merit. A duck hears also.”

We are creative writers: we know about prosody. Know the classical forms of rhetoric

and how to employ same.

If I mention Freytag’s pyramid you’ll likely be able to picture it.

Some of us can speak multiple languages.

Hence we understand the musicality of language.

But this doesn’t necessarily make us good listeners.


Now you are either mad at me for suggesting you are a subpar listener or you are doing the thing that writers do best: you are right now employing the shield of irony.

I love the shield of irony.


And as my Finnish grandmother would say:

“Tuonne takes metsamann…

Go there, beyond the woods…

In the meantime, while you are distancing yourselves from me, here’s a quiz:

What advantage does the cochlea give to human beings?

Theme music while you are pondering question as if we’re on Jeopardy:

Charles Mingus, Max Roach, Duke Ellington playing “Switch Blade”.


We can hear big sounds. The cochlea allows us to appreciate the cast iron construction of a gran piano.

Trade off: we cannot hear sounds from great distances.

In turn your dog can’t hear your Steinway. Not the way you do.

When you play that low note piano arpeggio your dog just hears sand on the beach.


Do we have any additional advantages over dogs and ducks when it comes to listening?

Yes. The pars tensa, the first receiver of the ear can actually distribute vibrating air molecules across the cochlea’s sensory grid and in turn each of the cochlea’s miniscule hairs transmits to the brain a precise neurological estimate of duration and rhythm.

This is why human beings can enjoy the vibra phones and the duck cannot.

To the duck, Lionel Hampton sounds like a long howl of wind across barbed wire.

To the duck the notes have no beginning and no end. So Stravinsky was wrong.

We may not be sophisticated listeners but we’re never as badly off as the duck.

A quick personal opinion: The reason I hate the bagpipes is that they sound to me

the way Lionel Hampton sounds to a duck.


Blindness has transformed my listening. I can hear the wind currents signaling that I’ve arrived within a few meters of a cross street in New York City. This knowledge is important because the cross street may be Eighth Street: a fast and dangerous sluice of traffic that I must cross as I head south on Fifth Avenue.

The wind, which always blows from the Hudson, gives me my first sign. My dog stops at the curb. I listen. It’s not enough to know from the presence of the wind that I am where I want to be: even a duck can do this.

Now I must listen through the masking wind and hear what the traffic is doing.


But the corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street is an anomaly:

wind pours across the intersection from west to east and as it moves

through the gaps between buildings it produces a form of white noise:

the kind of steady whisper that audio engineers aim to reproduce

when they build noise reduction headphones. The sound of traffic vanishes as if by magic.

The first time I noticed this I was in fact walking and listening like a duck.

I was working my way south on Fifth and eavesdropping. Two students from N Y U

both women, were ahead of me on the sidewalk and talking about jazz.

They had gone to the Blue Note to hear the famed Oscar Peterson.

They had grown up on Madonna but now they were grooving and stretching in New York

and I was happy to be hearing about it. And then the dog stopped short. We were at the curb.


We stood in the strange white noise of the west-going-to-east Hudson River wind.

I was standing on the lip of the curb and thinking about Oscar Peterson

and how he used to accompany Ella Fitzgerald and I was thinking of Ella

singing “Angel Eyes” and because I was a duck I told the dog to go forward.

This was my job as one half of the dog-man tandem. I was supposed to listen

at the curb. It was the dog’s job to watch the traffic.


What happened next was clear-cut: the dog pulled me backwards

and I felt a rush of air across my face.

Then I heard the roar of a cross-town bus.

My guide dog had saved my life.

The dog is trained in a form of observation known as “intelligent disobedience”:

she knows that my commands must be evaluated and on occasion even disobeyed.

I am alive because of this.


What if I approached the intersection with active ears? Would the situation be the same?

After my adrenaline was sufficiently lowered I walked around the block

and re-approach the corner.


The wind was astonishing both in its force and in its absolute efficiency

at blocking the sounds of cars and delivery trucks.

I stood for a few minutes on the east side of Fifth Avenue

on the north side of Eight Street and listened with what I can only call reverence.

Perhaps this is what Stravinsky meant by “effort”: one listens beyond the narrow coil of easy expectations. One is listening because in a very real sense life may depend on it.


What I discovered in that instance and in that place is that the wind

often has three distinct auditory characteristics.

First: The big wind kills traffic noise.

The whole world sounds like flags in a hurricane.

The wind rips through the openings between the brownstones

and the wind is surely a god as the Greeks well knew.

Under the big wind is a funny effect: I call it the durational absent-mindedness of air:

for whole moments the wind doesn’t exactly stop, but it changes direction,

and when it does you can hear everything in the city with absolute clarity.

In addition to the trucks you can hear the bicycle delivery men:

you can hear the chains of their bikes and the gritty noise of gears.

You can hear the clatter of a loose manhole cover as a bus strikes it.

You hear a woman laughing on the far side of Fifth Avenue: she is a mezzo-soprano,

loud and high and laughing to beat the band. And then she’s gone.

The world of things in motion has once again been swallowed by the wind.


The last trick of the wind is the most clever of all. Wind can transmit sounds or echoes if it wants to. Between the white noise and the awareness of my own pulse

I can hear electric lines and something metallic clattering

and something that sounds like an oboe and of course I’ll never know what this is.

Nevertheless the wind carries fragments of noise from far places

like an absent minded uncle who doesn’t remember what’s in his old suitcase.


So I’ve learned that the business of listening has acoustic sub-categories

that are easy to miss. And I know that I am alive despite the fact that I was duck walking

and duck listening one morning in New York.

Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth.”

He was of course referring to his own discovery of leverage.

In my own case a place to stand allows me the opportunity to hear

with better apprehension and this is in turn a kind of leverage.

. Leverage means influence.Listening can be the art of influence.


Not very long ago I heard a boy jumping on discarded bedsprings on a Chicago sidewalk. He was making a stripped down music from solitude and trash. It was the song of a woodcutter’s axe in the empty woods. He saw me listening. He noticed my guide dog. He sensed an audience. He threw everything he had into making r
are music with ruined steel
coils and shoes. He was releasing invisible spirits into the morning air of Wabash. Avenue. The music grew out of his blood. I’m guessing that if you’re a sighted person you’d have driven right on by. Or maybe you’d have crossed to the other side of the street if you had been walking there. But I heard the maddened dancing for five full minutes before moving on.


At first I thought the effect was obscene. He was simply calling out the furtive and metallic protests of forgotten trysts. I thought of a bordello in the wild west. I laughed at the salty bravado of the performance. Then I saw flashes of light. The coils were rising and compressing in timed measures. My blind eyes could just make out the glint of his instruments. In turn I began to listen to what this dancer was really doing.

The broken springs flashed like the undersides of leaves.

I was like a sailor on a distant ship. I could see the maritime flash of his lantern.

In turn I saw that his bed springs were tuned in harmony with the sky and the local trees.

The dancer was saying all kinds of things.

His feet were rattling and whistling.

I’d never heard anything like this before.

The dancer was offering his ragged memories to the damp air of the street.

I saw the sparks and heard the 16th notes;the 8th notes; the sparks of his dance dropped like stones from a bridge…


I was feeling lucky just then, alone with my guide dog, the two of us having been on an ordinary walk.

A gold leaf was spinning down. A red maple leaf was floating on water. Flashes of sun ran across the June river.

The dancer’s shoulders and hips dipped and high notes leapt all around him.

He was dancing at the epicenter of the early light—that overcast sun that always hangs in the mornings above Lake Michigan.

Then he was in an island of trees. Low notes came suddenly, the notes were signifying a bent path. The way forward was harder for some reason. The dance had taken a darker turn. I could tell this was now a steep narrative. Somehow he’d figured out how to make the springs sound like a tuba. Then he made the metal groan like a cello.

And then hammers were flying. Again there were sparks of light from the bed. The high notes came like whale songs from some migratory coast.

For a moment I thought about Marsilio Ficino, the Renaissance man of letters who remarked that “beauty is just shapes and sounds”. Hearing the Chicago dancer move across the secret world of a homemade dance—a “found” dance—I thought that Ficino left out the weird and lovely human and animal volition that lives behind the shapes and sounds. I also realized again much as I did when I was a boy that when you stand still you can hear the unexpected music and light that comes from living and walking in shadows.


The ears, mine, they are standing out like weeds at the end of dry autumn. Seasons can do this to me. I hear cherries falling. I swear. AT a friend’s farm in New Hampshire I hear cherries falling from the trees. There’s a light rain. There are shreds and tatters of fog and I sit in a low slung canvas chair and stay still because I can hear the blue heron tracking mice through pond grass. It is good just sitting here. My ears know the sky, the opaque and impossible sky. Purple martins catch mosquitoes even in a light rain. Twilight brings them on. My ears, dried golden rods stand out. Stand out there and listen to the hum of gnats. Somewhere above the fog clouds are rushing across the sky. And all I can hear are the local crickets and the thin call of a whippoorwill. And this is good enough. Dry ears and the prehistoric birds.


The pinna, the twin flowers of cartilage, dry, without much blood, they hang out there, twin transparent crescent moons. The purple martin drops from the barn’s roof quick as a flying mongoos,dropping fast as gravel in a well. And air, obedient, moves with him, molecules are pressured, invisible things are curdled, spilled. This air rushes into my dried flowers, my hanging twin mushrooms,the air rushes…the cartilage shakes, hot, curdled molecules of sound energies reach the brainstem faster than the purple martin can swallow the errant hornet. The pars tensa, the ear’s receiving membrane, is quicker than all the wrapped tissues of the brain. And now I am leaning far to the left in my hammock chair, pushing these skull flowers into the fast, mithraic air. And each ear leverages the pressured molecules, ratchets the force upwards through the long mystery of bones and canals, in effect slingshotting the molecular vibrations deep in the human head. Fast as the martin devours his insect the sound is faster still as it passes through the looped inner chambers of the ears, those little Franciscan rooms…and finally the racing molecules of pushed air—all caused by the martin’s slim and evanescent wings, reach the cochlea, where microscopic hairs lift and fall in a fabulous rhythmic dance—imagine a writhing hairy blanket, a blanket on the back of a shivering horse…and the root hairs send a sound, a sound like crystals falling together, or spoons dropped in mathematical precision, the wild, auditory language of the brain itself…I sway in my camp chair…now it’s getting dark and a thunderstorm is coming…the angleworms are making their slow way over my arms as I hold still. The storm is far off, booming with a call to the obdurate flesh. The electrolysis of the storm enters my ears. The root hairs of the cochlea sway and spark.


Greenwich Village

I sit for a long time in the chilly sunlight in Washington Square Park.

It’s late April. It’s not yet the season of hot Latin music and street fairs. This is when I like listening to New York. In the cold New York gives off noises of untellable loves.

The ambulance on its way to St. Vincent’s Hospital blows a raw high A with its siren. I think of someone’s father dying. Here in the midst of miles of asphalt I think of the family that will get the call. That telephone will ring in Canada and again in Southern California. I think of the interstices of blowing darkness. The high A of the ambulance receding. In a couple of weeks it will be the anniversary of my own father’s death. Now I hear a flock of birds walking with a kind of deliberation over frozen leaves, a weird little army fresh from the void. The birds make the noise of falling sleet.

Two men speaking German rush past, their voices low. All I hear is the word “gedichte” –“poems”—and I want to follow them.

I love the ecumenical provenance of words dropped in the cold.


Listening to Anita O Day

I didn’t know a woman’s voice could vanish beneath the sand. She just does it. She sinks as the night is coming. She drops under the earth and the snare drum is all that’s left. The snare sounds like tall grass.

I’m told that occasionally, looking into the faces of the elderly, one can see a spiritual blue in the small veins around the eyes. This is Anita’s blue. She is vanishing so perfectly.

I sit on the veranda of the lake house with only my dog for company and listen to these Impulse jazz sessions. The moon fills my cataracts and I see only the pale, unearthly mist of the sky. I lean back and let this odd jazz soprano voice wander inside me.

I get up and pour myself a scotch. Anita O Day calls from her solitary island. She sings with her whole body. She uses her every blue vein. It doesn’t matter what she sings. I’m always slow to get these things. It doesn’t matter what she sings.


The day he died Paganini tuned a viola. He took it from its glass case on the wall and held it thoughtfully and the young music student who was present in the room held his breath—would the great man play the viola? There was Paganini with his rotten teeth and dreadful blemishes, his watery eyes…Paganini whose jaw was badly misshapen from primitive surgery. Paganini of the night sweats and tremors. Paganini who hated men. Whose double jointedness made possible a brand of violin
playing that no one had ever heard before and which, quite likely no one would ever hear again. A miraculous talent. Fingers bent everywhere at once like the backworking of bird wings—Paganini who entered the rotating circles of Bach and with the benefit of superhuman fingers danced in what seemed like a wider circle…This man was now holding an instrument after months of fevers and aching bones. He held the viola, a Stradivari, and looked at it with that private antebellum stare of great performers and military commanders. He stared a long time and then began to tune the viola. The student saw how Paganini tuned the thing without second guessing, every turn of the peg was final and therefore proof of the violinist’s perfect pitch. He plucked a string then turned the peg with a flick of his wrist that seemed abrupt and very rash. But then the string was tuned. It was the damndest thing. It looked as if a wooden puppet was turning the pegs.

When he was finished tuning he stared at the instrument with black shining eyes. Then abruptly he returned it to its glass case and waved to the student to leave him. He died shortly after tuning the viola. It was a good burial ritual…Paganini planned to arrive in the star temple with a tuned Strad…


This is a talk about listening. The presumption behind such a thing is neo-classical—like Rousseau we will arrive at the gates of Heaven clutching our own little books. Surely I will be a better man for attempting to love the world with something like discernment. What pressure! This has an air of morality about it! Like Rousseau I shall drink Bordeaux and nibble the Swiss cheese and listen to the humming insects in the twilight and conceive of the mind as a fit tribute to the world.


All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its

mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which

motivated it.

Jean Cocteau

Yes, and even the aleotoric chance music of what is happening around us resembles something. We’re giving away too much invention if, as post-modern writers we fail to play at being Rousseau.


My first memory of hearing comes from the Baltic. I remember my father holding my hand as we walked to the end of a jetty in Helsinki, Finland. Although it was late in March Finland was still bitterly cold and the harbor was dotted with ice.

My form of blindness allowed me to see colors and torn geometries. Shards of ice drifted past us and my father told me they looked like continents. “There’s Australia,” he said. “There’s Hawaii.” But when I looked out I saw no distinction between sky and ice. I saw only endless plains of gray Baltic light. This didn’t bother me. It was the world I knew. It was a world of shadowy loves. If a person appeared before me he or she resembled nothing more than the black trunk of a tree.

We turned back and walked toward shore. A troupe of women emerged from the mist. They were indistinct, liquid, black and green. These were the old women from the neighborhood unfurling their carpets on the shore of the frozen sea.

Lordy! Then they sang!

The tree women sang and beat their carpets in the Baltic wind.

My father told me to listen.

“These are the old songs,” he said.

The women croaked, chanted, breathed and wept.

The women were forest people. They had survived starvation, civil war and then another war, the “Winter War” with the Russians.

Their carpets swayed on wooden racks that stood along the shore. They sang and beat dust from the rugs with sticks.

They sang over and over a song of night. The song unwound from a spool. I remember its terrible darkness. They were together singing a song that rose from a place deeper than dreams. Even a boy knows what this is.


Extemporaneous remarks:


One of the things that’s useful about listening hard is that it reminds us as writers of the evident “rightness” of Wallace Stevens’ assertion in his marvelous essay “The Effects of Analogy”(which you can find in his book “The Necessary Angel”)–namely that analogy or simile is more important to the writing of poetry than metaphor is. Metaphors are sexy but its the similes that hold and drive a poems energies. ONe thing is “like” another thing opens the field of reception. This is as true for listening as any other area of our mental lives. A thing sounds like something else. A boy in a tent in the rain thinks it sounds like grease in a frying pan.


The following aria was sung by Enrico Caruso in the era before the recording industry had perfected the electric microphone. He literally sang this aria from “Faust” into a paper horn and the force of his physical voice moved a needle over an acetate disc and this made the record. Many opera enthusiasts believe that this aria with its notable high C represents the greatest example of the high C ever recorded. Caruso “gets in” to the note at the end of the aria and rather than just “hitting it” and getting out of the note as many others have done, he widens the high c, makes it into something both joyous and yet tinged by strange sorrow–he makes art from the note and then he does an additional thing that many tenors can’t do–he “backs out” of the note and by doing so glides seamlessly into the final notes of the aria. I offer this not only as a great and wondrous piece of music but because its suggestive of similes. I hear Caruso in this aria and I remember Leadbelly’s line: “I see my coffin comin’ Lordy Lordy in my back door!” I also think one can say of this aria that its like the sounds of milk and iodine. Here’s the aria. Enjoy:

Salut Demeure Chaste et Pure

When I Write


The poet James Tate has a poem entitled “Contagion” which begins: “When I drink I am the only man in New York City”. I have always loved this line ever since encountering it for the first time as a greenhorn college student who was falling in love with poetry. There’s a bosky isolato about the line as if amidst the thrill of a broken heart one could be wildly alone simply by choice. Never mind the evident psychopathology of the thing. You drink some darkness as the poet Robert Bly would say.

Then you’re in the dark alley of your private catacombs Your old mother is there and her mother’s mother and by god they’ve got bruises and songs and cutlery and busted dreams and cradle songs and hair pieces and shoes with tacks in the heels and Lord knows what else. 

Turn a corner and the ember of a cigarette glows and its your dead friend back from the ocean and he doesn’t have to say a thing. He’s simply there like a cluster of wild roses.

I dreamt the other night that John the Baptist was instructing me on the eating of insects. I dreamt just last evening that a lighted manuscript, a book lit from within was before me–the book that my father has been writing in the afterlife. When I woke the wind was howling at the loose windows of the hotel here on the Oregon coast.

I am writing. I am the only man in Oregon. I am pierced by rays of dark matter. My job is to find the path back out of these    lightless rooms. The writer must rearrange the small, stone idols atop Sigmund Freud’s desk. I and you who write must make sense for others. My teensy butterfly heartache needs be a Morse code for your teensy lightning bug heart. If it aint then its just flapdoodle solipsistic drivel. The poem, essay or story must needs be an opening for the others back at the base camp.

When I write I am the only man in New York City. There are Russian ghosts driving their carriages and one of them, the saddest  ghost of all loses a wheel and the wheel rolls past me in the darkness of my private city. I am going to help find it. The wheel is rolling down the west side highway and headed for Battery Park. I know how to find it. I have the proper tin whistle. It was given to me by Madame Blavatsky. She gave it to Kenneth Rexroth who gave it to Sam Hamill who gave it to me while we were talking about wild flowers in a night garden. Things don’t “work” in creative writing the way they do in engineering. But they work. My tin whistle calls back the wheel and it skitters on its thin hub straight through the village and reattaches to the dead man’s droshky and he can resume his looping journey through the city that never sleeps and maybe, just maybe playing with words this way is why my dreams are sometimes real gifts. My father gave me a book last night while I slept close by the Oregon coast. I didn’t have to make this up.



We're Not Telling You Not to Come, But You Get the Picture

An ABC television affiliate in northern Virginia reports that the Obama inauguration planning has been devised so as to discourage people with disabilities from attending. Surely one can understand how the problems of logistics–how to move people with mobility accommodations through the vast thrhongs  of citizens who will be clogging the streets and the public transportation systems can’t be easy to resolve. And yet I would argue that this logistical difficulty or the fact that making accommodations isn’t easy is always the excuse that’s trotted out by the benignly ableist city planners, architects, aircraft engineers, academic dean’s offices, stadium officials, software developers, manufacturers of technologies, restaurant owners, oh on and on the list can go.

There really isn’t much more to be said about this matter alas. As the above article suggests, people at the Obama inauguration committee say that they’ve done   all they can do to make the proceedings accesible. I believe them though not because I think they’ve turned earth and sky upside down but because the relative “built in” inaccessibility of our nation’s second rate public transportation system and our inability to build disability into the first tier of event planning are commonplace matters that all pwds can relate to. “Oh,” someone says after the first plans for moving crowds and setting up seats, “Oh, yeah there will be disabled people, we better figure out    what to do about them.” By then its too late.

People don’t generally say: “Well, one in 4 to 5 Americans has a disability so let’s make sure this thing will work for that many people.” A noteworthy example of this principle has been demonstrated by the University of Michigan’s clumsy and lawsuit bedraggled effort to renovate their football stadium.

How and when will disability accommodations go from being a clumsy “add on” to a “built from the ground up” concern? Will, as some now say, the aging of the baby boomers bring this about? Will a new generation of war veterans help the disability rights community and their veteran elders to keep the pressure on? Surely these things are true. But the “truer” thing is that our nation’s universities must be teaching courses in disability studies and thereby introducing our next generation of planners and movers and shakers to the issues of universal design and best practices for making people friendly public spaces.



Lily Ledbetter Employment Fairness Bill Passes

I am pleased to relate that by a vote of 256-163  The Lily Ledbetter Actpassed today in the   U.S. House of Representatives.


If the legislation moves through the Senate with equal dispatch this equal pay for equal work amendment to the Civil Rights  Act of 1964 could become the first piece of legislation awaiting signing on Presiden Barack Obama’s desk. Such a prospect is inspiring beyond measure. But then again I have the phrasing wrong: the measure is as it always should be: a matter of dignity and a real paycheck. These things can be measured in the lives of real families and their children.



House to Vote Tomorrow on Equal Pay Act

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote tomorrow on the Lily Ledbetter Actwhich is designed to restore equal pay for equal work to the nation’s workforce. Named for Lily Ledbetter who was the plaintiff in a lawsuit alleging gender based employment discrimination the act is aimed at repairing the damage done to the rights of American workers by the right wing supreme court. This drive by the legislative branch to reassert the principles of employee’s rights is very much akin to the work that was successfully conducted to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act last year. In these teribly difficult economic times one can scarcely imagine a more pressing issue than the rights of workers unless of course we are thinking about homelessness or hungry children–matters that of course are entirely related to human rights in the workplace.

By the Sea, the Large and Distinguished Sea

I am visiting the Pacific University low residency MFA creative writing program as a faculty member and the program has its winter residency in a beach front hotel in the town of Seaside Oregon. Our plane trip from Iowa to Minnesota and then to Portland was a cinch but getting from the airport to the coast was quite a journey owing to the debestating flooding that folks are experiencing in both the states of Washington and Oregon. ON the way here it was hard to tell the sea from the land in many of the low lying communities.

The sea is the realm where the effects of global warming are most catastrophic. Coming out of Iowa where last summer’s epic flooding shut down the University of Iowa and nearly destroyed   the city of Cedar Rapids I couldn’t help but feel today as we made our way to the coast that the damage to our planet has produced wider effects across our continent than our slack government was prepared to acknowledge until very recently.

One feels the futility of talking about literary art while the planet is reeling. I taught last summer while thousands of students and local citizens tried to save the University of IOwa’s library by sandbagging in a vast industrial line.IN despair at the terrors of the second world war Auden once remarked that poetry makes nothing happen. May he be wrong always. Can we solve the crisis of climate devestation? Al  Gore says we’re nearly out of time but there’s still a slim window.

A slim window. Like those windows in the Aran Islands, built narrow to keep out the north sea. A narrow window with an hour glass.

O let us be stewards.

Last night I dreamt that a holy man, a bishop told me to eat only the tenderloin insects. I shall trust like John the Baptist that our ways shall be made straight.

I think my unconscious was calling for a simpler life. The planet could subscribe to human simplicities.



The Deleterious Effects of Memory

Today I had a lovely and lively lunch with two professors from Grinnell College and together we discussed among other things the ways in which memory must be understood in broader terms as an active engagement of the past and the present–much in the manner of mythological intelligence. WE were thinking of this along the lines of recent theoretical work in autism and with the associated sense that autistic people remember things not merely as “the past” but they see that past as static and very much a part of the present. This was a smart conversation and then as my friends drove away I thought in a more low comedic fashion about all the dreadful junk that’s stored in my memory banks (and yours too I may venture) and I remembered the horrible visage of the 1950’s TV humanoid figure known as Speedy Alka Seltzer. He was a dancing plasticine boy with an oversized curl of plasticine hair that fell over his bulbous forehead; he had an Alka Seltzer tablet for a torso and another tablet poised atop his immense head–so that it resembled a sailor’s hat. He was a dreadful apparition then and now and if I was possessed of a sharper memory I might never be able to put this little rascal out of mind. I’m glad sometimes that I’m not as smart as my friends who have autism. I can forget Speedy Alka Seltzer for moments. I can hum to myself something from the Tales of Hoffman instead. One may suggest these are the same thing. I can’t say.I could however use an Alka Seltzer right about now.