After

1.

It does not matter the after—
Sex or burial
You’ll speak a dog’s language.
I’ll come back to it.
I will weep or laugh
With the tarot
And soon
I’ll come back to that.

2.

After my father died
I lay down
Before his grave—
The after-dog.
It didn’t matter
As a boy
Baltic rain woke me
Or that the dog came home
In a Finnish rhyme.

3.

And it doesn’t matter.
Execution is the chariot
Of genius Blake said—
Here’s a place to weep.
Dog-talk.
I like saying
I’m going on—
This leads to a garden.

In the Garden

As a small boy I used to pick up the telephone just to talk to the operator. She was always there. “Where’s your mommy?” she’d ask. How could I tell her my mommy was depressed and always sleeping? So I’d say: “she’s in the garden.”

Of real gardens there’s much to say. But the gardens of abstraction also need mentioning.

By the age of three I knew something about the real garden. I’d buried my spectacles there. My little Windsor specs, thick as dishes, designed to turn legal blindness into a better form of legal blindness and which older children laughed at. I buried them under the rhubarb.

Magic happens in gardens. Why wouldn’t my mother be there?

“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful!’ and sitting in the shade.” (Kipling)

But I remember sitting in the shade and wishing my mother would get up.

Ravenna

“I, too, have been in Ravenna.
It is a little dead city
That has churches and a good many ruins.
You can read about it in books.”

—Hermann Hesse (translated by James Wright)

I’ve never been to Ravenna my friend
But I know the little dead cities.

There’s a caste to the men in those towns
As though they must walk backwards

Because of history. Look around
They seem to say—

Everybody draws back into
His own time till it’s dark again.

Now please don’t fall in love there
Or there no matter your heart

Your face and hands.
We go through so much

Over time, distress,
Moments of fear

The small triumphs,
Do not fall in love in this place.

Karl Jasper’s Parable

Two halves of a life were debating, rather bitterly, like unhappy twins. Both had studied the classical methods of confession so were voluble but insincere. Neither half knew how to escape forward. Anyway, it was late in the day when shadows spread across the lawn like symbols of past actions when the transitive life stood between them—one may call her “future pneuma perfect” though it scarcely matters for she can take care of herself.

“What,” she said, “causes you to think the past is definitely settled? Don’t you know it’s changing right now, beneath your feet?” “This is the future of resignation—patience, day-dreams, small plantings…”

Thinking of Gunnar Ekelof

The stingrays in my dream were almost translucent and then I saw this was Hell and they were souls which is the way of dreams. How does one explain this was a kind of happiness?

Vague convictions grow clear.

**

Upriver and down.
Mix in a teaspoon of Heraclitus and a cup of Eliot…

**

People like me, with severely limited vision, we tend to like first light or sunset best. We’re late or early to each garden.

**

Inside the eye a smaller eye; inside the secondary eye a stingray; inside this–Ekelof, Herakleitos and Eliot.

**

Oh Gunnar Ekelof, you who saw the afterlife is flat, the hours ours, and a night lamp the muse.

**

From a notebook:

Explanation

When the river asked me to join
wind was still. So I put half my arm
in there—cold bone brother
and sure
river wasn’t satisfied—
it begged for more arm.
I plunged up to my shoulder
like a man
who’s dropped his car keys,
reaching among reeds
feeling my ancestors.
Grandfather was giddy
with parturition and slick.
“God help me,” I thought,
“letting fast river talk me
into metempsychosis.”
Water flowed one way
and the dead the other.

**

Ekelof, smoking a pipe in a circle of lamplight.

Shame on the NY Times for Perpetuating Disability Stereotypes

In a review of the theatrical staging of Jose Saramago’s novel “Blindness” Maya Philips can’t resist telling readers that the hackneyed trope of vision loss as catastrophe is “stimulating and immersive.” As Philips is a poet one expects more than this. Ableism remains as inauthentic, cliched, and destructive as racist depictions of Black folks or trivial displays of weakened femininity. But because the play employs blindness as metaphor the implications of the offensiveness are overlooked. Beyond Philips, this violation is overlooked by every sighted audience member of this specious, distasteful production–a play which invites people to sit in the dark, listen to disembodied voices, and hear a tale of ophthalmic contagion where the entire world is afflicted by the loss of sight.

Blindness is the perfect trope for smug ableist treatments in the arts. A few years ago the summer performance series at Lincoln Center offered up a musical version of Metternich’s “The Blind” which is a similar affair, with lost blind people groping in an existential wilderness. I wrote about that travesty here.

Blindness lends itself to paltry and derisory metaphors–psychic imminence, vaticism, despair, death, compensatory talent, and of course utter hopelessness. These things have no genuine connection with blindness save that figurative influence holds a strong place in the public imagination. But you see, bad art does real damage to the blind: it reinforces the ancient idea that there’s something sinister and even predatory about blindness in particular and disability in general. 70% of the blind remain unemployed in the US. In many countries they’re still hidden away from the public. Fear-metaphors are out of date, appalling, and deeply offensive yet they go on.

And poets like Maya Philips who should know better, who would be horrified by a contemporary revival of Amos & Andy where white men play black men with every known racist stereotype attached, well, they’re AOK with medieval presentations of blindness as COVID art.

If you think my Amos & Andy analogy is too harsh, think again. The blind do not grope, stumble, howl, beat their fists on walls while declaring their cosmic misfortunes. How can artists in this day and age still dine out on this offal?

I’ve spent the last thirty years writing poetry and nonfiction and occasional journalism about disability, art, epistemology, human rights, and yes, the poetry of difference. Like many disabled writers I argue alterity of the body is just another human feature like being left handed or having funny ears. And yes, there’s more to disability than this of course but let’s not throw nets over the cripples and re-inscribe all the ugly symbolisms of the past.

Shame on the New York Times.

Kindness

Everyone has time to be kind but some don’t take it. There’s no data about those who do and do not take time for kindness.

Yes and there’s no uniform or get up for spotting kindness.
To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, if you’re on a street at night in a strange land and three holy men approach you should probably run.

Still I love the riddle of kindness on the plain street, that it’s all around us despite the phony costumes.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

It’s a tough kindness one wants in today’s United States. I think this means being kind without expectation of reward.

I think FDR was onto something. That’s the stamina of kindness. Right there.

A Man Climbs in and Out of Himself, Almost Successfully

1.

I was a blind kid watching the tv and who had to put his nose on the screen to see with one eye the Gemini astronaut make his space walk tethered like a practicing acrobat and I thought, “that’s what we want! To climb in and our of our bodies!” And I wasn’t a big thinker at the age of ten I was just a kid who was bullied at school and whose mother was a drunk.

2.

Success is a different thing. It’s a sharp object. One grows older. You cut the grass. Write sentences. But one still wants to climb in and out of the body.

3.

The Romantics could do it. Well, maybe not. But they thought they could–you can’t fault their ambition. And boy oh boy did Ahab want to be Jonah. And you know, the shadow always seems more real than the body.

I watched a clumsy man who resembled a baby in a snowsuit floating in space.

4.

You want to be an anti-moralist but can’t really get away with it.

You want out of the body-house but this is infantile as Jung said…and you want out of the story but it’s Lilliputian strings are everywhere; you want the animals to rescue you but they’ve got their own problems…

And the love dilemmas, the money narratives, the sadnesses of one’s children…

No wonder the poet James Tate wrote “fuck the astronauts” and actually meant it…

5.

No wonder two truths approach one another inside this flesh.
No wonder right now it’s ten minutes to all that’s coming.
No wonder we fantasize about a dark ship that floats away on the sea.

6.

In a split second of hard thought I manage to catch myself.

Lamento (After Tomas Transtromer)

So much that can neither be written nor kept inside!
Such thin wrists; such brittle feelings.

I want to lie down behind the furnace in this old house
While outside the early spring fusses with leaves.

I can tell you more—like how the weeks go by
And how the little kit of my heart beats

Or what avails from morning studies,
Two moths on a sill with messages.

I see how it is to not have much.
I hear a winch groaning in the next street.

What is this whistling, birds or wires?
I want this season to hurry.

I write things like: “weeks go by,”
“Apple trees have sorrows too,”

“Don’t lie about your writing…”