Disability and Poetry, Part 145

Thanks to Chris B whose blog, Through Alien Eyes, is a thoughtful and lovely place for disability reflections. He heard me speak recently on disability and poetry at The Ohio State University and has written a kindly analysis of my presentation.

When I am In New York City with my guide dog the happiness of the city is mine. Swiss tourists want to tell me about their Labradors at home. Doormen call out as we walk by. It’s a different city for us, communal, improbably humane even at moments ecstatic. This must go into the living poem of physical difference.

So too the damages and the ugliness. What I like to call the mercenary labeling of ableism. People with disabilities experience the crackling, unspoken diminishing glares of strangers. Until they are spoken. Then the day tilts like a bad amusement park ride. This must also go into the living poem of physical difference.guide dog, Nira

What the guide dog schools won’t tell you, or by turns, tell you imperfectly, is that guide dog teams will encounter public incomprehension and outright discrimination as they walk around. In my case this discovery came 18 years agoin New York City when I tried to get into a cab and the driver began screaming expletives. Despite this I got into the car. His language and mine became an instant study in art for all the ingredients of creativity were present: tension, incomprehension, passion, and spontaneity.

Sitting stern as a tree in the backseat, I told him that the law permits guide dogs for the blind in all taxis–in fact guide dogs are allowed everywhere. Hell, I even had an ID card from the school with my picture and the dog’s picture and all the appropriate legalese. But the driver, my driver, did not believe in the bravery or happiness of others. He began revving his engine and revving up his shouting.

What can you do? My driver hated me and my dog and was refusing to budge. I was reciting the law. Oh the godforsaken wilderness of human rage. When you have a disability every moment of discrimination evokes all the others: you’re again the boy who was told he couldn’t play with others, couldn’t go to school with them, sat alone in a room. This must also go into the living poem of physical difference.

Then again, the shy, unanticipated joy: in Central Park a man says to me, “You can’t tell, but I am the statue of liberty.” “Me too,” I say.

Previously published on Steve’s other blog, Planet of the Blind


Professor Stephen Kuusisto, blind since birth, 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”. He has also published “Only Bread, Only Light“, a collection of poems from Copper Canyon Press. As director of the Renee Crown University Honors Program and a University Professor at Syracuse University, Steve speaks widely on diversity, disability, education, and public policy.