On Blindness, Animal Pelts, and Revery…

If on some nameless island Captain Schmidt

Sees a new animal and captures it,

And if, a little later, Captain Smith

Brings back a skin, that island is no myth.

—John Shade, Pale Fire


Facts are produced by violence and are almost never the product of contentment. Artifacts are the spoils of empire. Even laboratories are places of conquest for every experiment aims to overturn the past.

Now I stand on a street corner. There is the traffic violence. There is also the hurried violence of passersby who race the clock.

Often I think of blindness as liberating, not because it is fact-less or non-violent, but because its more imbued with reverie than is commonly supposed. There are in fact whole moments when one must pause, listen, reflect, imagine, and let go of assumptions. One may say this is a romanticized version of vision loss, that its incompatible with reality, for there are aggressive and angry blind people and surely this is so, but let’s say its more likely a man or woman can have a brief moment of intellectual acquisitiveness when relieved of the visual impulse to grab or skin what’s before them. Romantic or not, blindness is a form of emotional intelligence.

Of course I’ve been put in mind of this conceit by virtue of the most often asked question thrown at the blind by sighted people—it has variants, but it goes like this: “Will your guide dog protect you if you’re attacked?” Or: “Aren’t you afraid of the dangerous streets?”

The answer to both is “no” but really the more interesting thing is the question itself for its predicated by the assumption that functioning eyes will protect you. Moreover its further based on the idea that although the world is violent, the eyes are a fetish. They are inherently magical.

Imagine believing such a thing, you sighted people! Hahaha! How can you ever hope for revery with your eyes open? Your hungry eyes that long to capture the animals and skin them. Perhaps some reader will prove me wrong, but I know of no blind person who’s house is filled with animal pelts.


Why I Can’t Forgive John Lennon

When the Beatles were new John Lennon made fun of the cripples seated down front of whatever theater—he’d do a retard act. I’ve never forgotten this nor can I find it in myself to forgive him. I was a disabled kid and now I’m a disabled man. I have to enact patience and forgiveness daily. Ableist behavior is legion. I make it through by means of small dispensations, little pardons, absolving the bus driver who resents me, willing beneficence, handing out invisible coins of absolution to the cab driver who refuses me a ride. Lovingkindness is the Christian word for this. I try to love my oppressors.

Ableism, taken nominally, is insufficient to highlight real circumstances. Those who think themselves superior to a woman in a wheelchair or a man who walks with a stick are exceptionalists and if they’re not educable they become tacit eugenicists for social Darwinism lurks behind most disability discrimination. The fascist wants to make the world clean, wishes for a sanitized sameness in the population, argues passionately against expenditures for the care and rehabilitation of those who require assistance. Meantime the disabled muster some forbearance and get on with it. The taxi that refused you will likely be followed by one that accepts you. Yet the message is clear: disabled, you’re a problem on the street, in the airport, in the classroom, the supermarket, the hotel, health club, doctor’s office, college campus, the theater, symphony hall, and all workplaces.

“Problem” is not the right word of course—problems are solvable or at least they’re invitations to find a solution, or what I like to call “solvation” much as Jamaican people say “no problem mon!” True ableism requires an antipathy to finding disability solutions and it depends on a willful lack of irony individually and collectively. The singular ableist is someone like the junior high school principal who says “no” when a 12 year old girl with cerebral palsy wants to bring her authentic service dog to school. Collective ableism is the school board behind the principal. They say: “of course we cannot have a service dog in the classroom! Think of the children who will somehow be ruined by this!”

In order to think this you must be an inherent exceptionalist who despises intellectual and bodily difference. Such people believe not in solvation but in segregation, deportation, and even annihilation.

Lovingkindness is the hardest thing in my life. I know I’m working daily with college faculty and administrators who resent the disabled. I try thinking of how damaged they are—that they’ve been made to accept compulsory normalcy by means of many cruelties. They were always racing to get one step ahead. For them disability represents the thing they fear most: the loss of distinction, both intellectually and performatively. At the big conference cocktail party where faculty are first anointed they must “present” as having just arrived from the gym.

I find I can’t forgive John Lennon. Later he wrote a song called “Crippled Inside” which is just as offensive as his youthful face pulling. And I can’t forgive the social Darwinists around me. I’m a little worn out from all the forgiving I have to do in the customary street to forgive those whose educations and talents should prevent them from outrageous bigotry.

But I Can’t

Disability says nothing but I told you so,
 Disability only knows the price you have to pay.
 If I could tell you I would let you know.
 I’d let you know how to rest,
 Sing a song of buoyant life.
 Disability says nothing but I told you so.
 It only knows the price you have to pay.
 Suppose all the clouds came down low,
 And the wilderness suddenly had words,
 Would silent lonely nature let us in?
 Would trees dismiss, say I told you so?
 If I could tell you I would let you know.
 If I could tell you I would let you know.
 – Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Micro Memoir: the Moon and Edith Sodergran

There is something about the childlike face of the little dog, trust and appetite, he’s in the game no matter what. If a ball comes his way he’ll scoop it up. If you scratch his ears he will smile as dogs do—that sidelong open grin of the half accommodated predator who still recalls where he came from. I love him for not being me. He is not gifted musically. He’s not cynical like the birds flitting from branch to branch.


All that shines are the flowers from last night’s dream. Irises. Blue as flame on a cake.


So many rags and masks in my imagination’s closet. And the wind today blowing darkness against my chin.


Yes water and light are furnishings. Imagine that house, eh Mr. Aalto?


When Heraclitus invented lyric time he also created reality.


Dreamt the green reception of the sea—that first plunge—you can carry it with you.


The grey flock of academic colleagues, hunching along sidewalks. They know, inwardly, they’re custodians.


I write hastily, without expectation of thanks, very lonely, as always.


Quick story: I spent a winter reading Edith Sodergran, alone in the far north—Helsinki. One night, the moon, at my window, reached in, and searched my pockets.


Table Map

Down the road, down the road, all my friends live down the road. Old folk poem—down

the road and around the bend, ain’t got a letter in I don’t know when. Morning now. Rain.

If I think on it I’m remarkably simple. Papyrus, flute, true horse, following dog.

Up early, knocked about by nostalgia. I think boyhood lonesomeness holds clues.

Goemetrical, blazing, deathless,/Animals and men march through heaven,/

Pacing their secret ceremony. Thank you Kenneth Rexroth.

I sense the precise turn in the road, laid out by the gods’ hooves.

Day night our prancing. Thank you Pentti Saarikoski.

Living “up the road” from those I miss, what can it mean?

It means you are a centaur, with light in its eyes.

Micro Memoir: A Vague Love for Parsifal


Yes. There’s a suggestibility in books and last month when it was raining I read some mathematical calculations which were like various masks you’d find in a museum. Straight off I wanted to be a Victorian mathematician with pencil and tablet; Macassar oil, inked hat, a vague love for Parsifal, a fascination with godforsaken places. These—from an old volume of algebra.

You wouldn’t think you were suggestible. I am referring to myself. I’m confident I can remain half mad for one more day. It’s the damned books that push affections and dissatisfactions—it’s the books.

All I want is flowers in the window.


Alright. A repeated fury has me by the toe. You see, the wind from dawn’s hourglass opened my eyes and I wasn’t ready. Now I want to tear the wreaths off my neighbor’s doors.

There are so many unknown forces in the genes. Today I am a rabid king. Beware lest I appear in your yard. As Pablo Neruda once said: “Please, I beg a sage to tell me, where may I live in peace?”


I’m listening to Beethoven’s String Quartet #12 in E Flat, Op. 127.

How good on a dark day

To hear the strings

Like silver in a poor man’s room

A clean force.

Quartet #12—


Before a trip

Darkness against my cheek.



I bought an umbrella from a street vendor. The sky was clear. The weather report called for many days of sun. Sometimes you need a prop for the dark, unconscious side of life. I bought the thing for my dead mother. And then she was there with me on 8th St. And the crowd around us formed a dense black ant pile and the confusion all about was indescribable.


I fell out of a tree in 1955. Entered the world like a cicada.  There’s a chain of coffee places in New York City called “Pan Quotidien” which we are supposed to imagine means  “customary bread”–but I generally hear it as “ordinary pain” which brings me back to the cicada. He walks around and then gets eaten. Once when I was in college I asked an entomologist why insect scholars aren’t more philosophical. He said that science is exact. Which I still take to mean “being eaten is being eaten” and that’s that. You see, there’s no meaning in being eaten. And across the street from “Pan Quotidien” is a Methodist Church. For those who hope being eaten means something. I fell out of a tree. Talk a lot. Make a clatter with my unsupportable wings. That’s it.


Birch branches curve slightly upward, less insistent than the oak. Across the street from me, in a different building, is a man who can explain why this is so, but we do not know each other.

Meantime, I guide my life by dreams, inefficient as always, prone to depression, occasionally putting my forehead down on the wet lawn early.


I wonder if I can stick to one thought, like a small hunting dog? Riding the train to New York, looking at the spoiled factory towns, the haunted river, can I hold with one thought?  I think I can be allowed a murmur. There has to be music in human silence. There may be music after this. Shadows fall together in the tall grass of a railroad siding.  Night crosses the desert of my understanding. I wonder if I can stick to one thought, like a small hunting dog?


Topographers of the 18th century, here’s snow with its rhymes and half words. I know how you put this on your maps. This is because I also try to avoid temporal distractions.


How does it begin, the collapse of wish?

When you can’t ask how it ends.

This is a joke of the rich

Who play chess with civic statues.

Ezra Pound would insert Greek.

ὄνους σύρματʹ ἂν ἑλέσθαι μᾶλλον ἢ χρυσόν

(Asses would rather have straw than gold.)

Three crows on my lawn,

All dancing sideways

Pecking at the remains

Of a Christmas wreath…

When I was a lad, well, you know—

I lived in the warrens of an outlawed sect called “the blind”.


My louche, unbuttoned, acerbic, free wheeling side pops up all the time. Says what it wants. Said once: the enemy stars are the same as ours–said it to a military recruiter and why not? And said once to a government agent who was photographing a protest against Ronald Reagan’s suppression of freedom in El Salvador: you know there are honest jobs, ones where you can make humble and lasting discoveries. And he of course photographed me.



Natural Selection

Last night I climbed from bed and walked my molecular sack downstairs for a glass of water. Then, without apparent effort I retraced my steps. Nothing stood in my way.


My thirst was triggered by natural selection—some of my ancestors did not successfully acquire their respective glasses of night water. Something prevented them from waking. Later they succumbed to the great Scandinavian flu epidemic of 1910.


Maybe my wife who was having a dream awakened me. Perhaps I have a wife because of natural selection. It’s likely that she chose me from among her suitors because she intuitively understood that I am the kind of man who wakes in the night and drinks water and thereby will continue to exist.


The aesthetic economy of survival is no small thing. A true story: someone introduces cats to a village where formerly there were no cats and those cats eat the mice. In turn the bees flourish. (Mice eat bees, particularly in winter.) The bees pollinate in greater numbers.

The flowers are beyond description. Monet paints them.