Faeries, come…

All those who believe I’m vagrant—blind as I am
Walking with my stick or dog—
That woman in Boston who hoped to pray for me
Who ran away when I offered to pray for her,
What’s wrong with a disabled prayer?
I stood in the street and waved my arms.
In London a girl called me “poor Dearie”
And thrust coins in my hands.
Once in Cleveland a red faced man
Followed me block after block
Proposing to help…better I thought
Than the alternatives—
The asylum; the work houses.
In general the poets of my nation
See the blind as an existential blank.
But tired of standing for nothing
I sing and walk down Broadway
The sweet, manifold, wishful syllables
Of William Yeats—
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound.org

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

Free Cookies, Evident Dignities

No one gets a free cookie in the work camp called America. You kids get back to work. Get on your scabby knees and scrub the jetsam.

Last night two cabs in Brooklyn refused to give me a ride. No to the guide dog. No to the man.

The man was told, despite the ardor evident in his heart, and perhaps observable on his smiling face to get back on his scabby knees.

No taxi. No cookie. Same old.

I never get used to it.

This came after a beautiful poetry reading honoring the late poet Deborah Tall at Bookcourt, a lovely indie bookshop. We had a good turnout and wonderful readers and wisdom and lyrical intelligence were all about us. About. We were about together honoring a poet who passed away young and who’s posthumously published final book is now out.

I said to someone, “well they can’t take our souls” in reference to Trump. Later I had to say it about the taxi men. You can’t have my big plush heart you bastards. And I’m terribly sorry no one gave you a free cookie. I haven’t gotten mine either.

Meanwhile I almost got run over yesterday while walking down Sixth Avenue when a bicycle messenger ran a red light and almost struck me, save that my guide dog made a quick maneuver and saved us both.

Meanwhile strangers, pedestrians, witnesses jeered the bicyclist who fell of his damned bike and was scrambling to get to his feet.

Meanwhile I thought he’s just another guy who didn’t get his cookie. I couldn’t be angry. I was alive. He was alive. We went our separate ways.

Meanwhile I like this recipe for the free cookie:

I part Walt Whitman’s breakfast (whatever he was having)

2 parts reexamined opinion (almost anything by Naomi Wolf)

3 generous doses of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and—

3 equally generous doses of Susan Sontag

Garnish with Christopher Hitchens “Notes to a Young Contrarian”

You can tinker with this recipe. It will accept many ingredients but the caveat is that the input, the human sine qua non must represent ardor and a history of assisting others. So, for instance, Ayn Rand doesn’t quality. No also to Norman Podhoretz.

You can put in Hilda Doolittle or Roberto Clemente if you like.

And of course we’re talking about spirits, so it’s up to you how you’re going to get this into cookies.

See? I’ve nearly forgotten being almost killed and then denied my rights.

 

 

The Guide Dog and the Cruel Nun, Italy…

I didn’t want to cry. The wide sun was covering my face. Tourists were all about. The day was warm for April. I didn’t want them, the tears, the choked tears of disability exclusion but they came and I leaned against a wall outside Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to “The Last Supper” and wept before strangers. I’d been denied entry to the church by a nun. She’d hissed like a goose and had pointed me away. It was Corky—no dogs in the grotto! Her disdain was cruel and it belonged to the viaticum of ruthlessness and I understood it wasn’t Corky she objected to at all but blindness itself, a pre-Roman atavistic stigma. I heard it. It rose from the back of her throat.

I’d encouraged Connie to go in and so I swayed and cried alone and hated myself. It wasn’t the spectacle of weeping that disgusted me, it was having to cry and letting a dried up craven, superstitious dingus get the best of me. “Supper Sister” had turned me away from Heaven and she knew it.

I slid down the wall and sat on the pavement. Corky, Labrador, large, affectionate, concerned, pressed against me and I cried all the more. The guide dog was supposed to fix this; to give me freedom; open the world, and to the best of her ability she had. We were in Italy where only three years ago I’d been living a sealed and provincial life in a small town, unsure of how to go places. Corky had done her part.

Godammit! I cried all the more. What was wrong with me? The Italians weren’t friendly to guide dogs, and over a span of three days I’d absorbed the evil eye from at least eighteen men and women. So what? Where was my inveterate, subversive streak—though I’d lived much of my childhood and adolescence fearing disability, I’d also been wild enough to say fuck you to teachers and aggregate bullies. Fuck you, I’d said to the high school chemistry teacher who wouldn’t describe what was on the blackboard. Fuck you, I’d said to the college professor who said I shouldn’t be in his class. Fuck you and Fuck you. And Fuck you, Nixon. Jesus! I’d been undone by a nun! A sputum bespattered unfounded wobbly nun!

I laughed then because that’s how it is with tears of discrimination—you get there.

 

 

Huffington Post: Dogs in the Playing Field

I’m so very pleased to mention I’ve been invited to be a guest blogger for The Huffington Post. It’s quite an honor. Below is an excerpt published yesterday, December 4. I’d be grateful if you’d visit the site and if you like the post, please feel free to share it with your social circles.  Thank you!

Dogs on the Playing Field

Steve Kuusisto & guide dog, Corky

No one gets a free pass to public life — “public life” — the elusive goal people with disabilities strive for. While the village square is sometimes difficult to enter often a service animal can help. In my case I travel with a guide dog, a yellow Lab named Nira who helps me in traffic. Together we race up Fifth Avenue in New York or speed through O’Hare airport in Chicago. We’re a terrific team. But even 23 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and 70+ years since the introduction of guide dogs in the U.S. life in public isn’t always friendly. Lately it seems more unfriendly than at any time since the late 1930s when the blind had to fight for the right to enter a store or ride a public bus. What’s going on?

Read more of Dogs on the Playing Field

Dog Schmooze

Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read “Letter to Borges in His Parlor” in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

Thank you, Poetry Daily, for This Honor…

 I’ve been designated the “Featured Poet” for today at Poetry Daily.  Needless to say I’m delighted.  I’m grateful, too.

 

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Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”. His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released. Listen to Steve read “Letter to Borges in His Parlor” in this fireside reading via YouTube. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do. Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com

Just Released! Letters to Borges by Stephen Kuusisto (Copper Canyon Press)

Stephen Kuusisto Reads from Letters to Borges, His New Book of Poems

JUST RELEASED!  Best-selling memoirist Stephen Kuusisto uses the themes of travel, place, religion, music, art, and loneliness to explore the relationship between seeing, blindness, and being. In poems addressed to Jorge Luis Borges—another poet who lived with blindness—Kuusisto leverages seeing as negative capability, creating intimacy with deep imagination and uncommon perceptions.

If you enjoyed this reading and would like to listen to several more poems from Letters to Borges, it’s easy enough to arrange.  This FREE recording is yours to enjoy at your leisure, preferably from your favorite cozy chair with a cup of coffee or a nice glass of wine in hand. Simply fill in the “Join me for a cozy ‘fireside’ poetry reading…” form found to the right of this blog post or make your request below.

REVIEWS:

Seth Abramson Seth Abramson, Poet

Kuusisto’s is a life one wants to know, detailed sparingly by a man one wants to know, inscribed in a generic form one finds oneself not merely compelled but honored to read. Letters to Borges is highly recommended for those who still find honor and beauty in both simplicity and–can it be?–actually having something to say.  Read more of Seth Abramson’s reviewfrom the Huffington Post,  Huff Post Books, November 2012


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If we account for Kuusisto’s restricted sight, the brilliance of his verse acquires deeper resonance, for his work imagines a realm between sight and sound composed of the sensory stimuli we all know and recognize, but split, fractured, and juxtaposed to inhabit the mind’s ear of his readers, a feat unique to this truly gifted poet. — Diego Báez, Booklist Advanced Review

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Professor Stephen Kuusisto is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening” and the acclaimed memoir Planet of the Blind, a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”.  His second collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press, “Letters to Borges has just been released.  He is currently working on a book tentatively titled What a Dog Can Do.  Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy. www.stephenkuusisto.com, www.planet-of-the-blind.com
 

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All Day These Blues: Farewell Senator Harkin

All day I’ve been trying to slip the tag of these blues–the baseball analogy seems right–the blues has the ball and I’m sliding slowly and painfully into his hard touch. It takes hours to slide.

When I got up today I was rounding third, fresh from a dream where I was lost in a far city, some place in China. People kept pointing to my face, my wandering, ineffective eyes–they’d point and laugh and no one would answer my questions.

I know it was my childhood and adolescence. Since the unconscious likes novelty it threw in some strange Asian people, but they were really just the principal and students of my high school who didn’t want me in the classroom–any classroom–the irritating blind kid. How they hated my very existence. And there was the track coach who wouldn’t let me run on his team because a blind kid was a liability. He and some of the students in his circle laughed at me, demanding I return the track suit. Laughed and pointed.

I have a disability. Some days I’m running in three worlds: the open field of my imagination (where I entertain optimism), the daily hurdles of American life (where I’m prevented from riding in a taxi because of my guide dog) and the city of deep memory (where I will always be a humiliated boy who simply wanted to fit in). All of the running is difficult, sub-aquatic, and slow, horribly slow.

When I read yesterday that Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa has decided not to seek reelection after forty years of public service I felt like weeping. I was sitting on an Amtrak train on my way home to Syracuse and somewhere around Poughkeepsie I found the article with my talking iPad. I felt just then a sense of deep and profound loss for Senator Harkin has often been the only friend of Americans with disabilities in the US senate. I do not feel I’m exaggerating here. While other senators have voted for measures designed to help people with disabilities no other man or woman on Capitol Hill has been so consistent, brave, undaunted and fierce on our behalf. No one.

Earlier today when the blues caught the ball, when I was turning the corner for home, fresh from a bad dream, I wrote on Facebook that its hard to imagine who might take Senator Harkin’s place, and pointed out that liberals and neo-liberals are no better when it comes to disability than many conservatives. You can’t count on democrats. I am, for all intents and purposes, rather terrified. People with disabilities are about to lose the best friend in politics they’ve ever had.

 

Running in three worlds. Slow motion.