Faces on the Telephone

I was talking yesterday with my friend Lance Mannion via the old fashioned telephone. We weren’t Skyping or Apple Watch-ing. We imagined our respective faces and gestures. On the phone everyone is blind. We must coin a neologism for “phone nostalgia” while it’s still possible. Soon it will be impossible to speak without Dick Tracy micro-cameras. Accordingly we’ll have to observe our friends and acquaintances stretched on sofas wearing Sponge Bob Square Pants leisure wear. 


In a college class recently one of my students at Syracuse said people dressed better in the United States fifty years ago. “Have you been to Wal Mart lately?” she asked. “Everyone slumps around in pajamas and horrible sweat pants.” 


“Well,” I said,  “fifty years ago people dressed up because there was a general expectation you could get a job. Dress for Success meant something. Nowadays millions have given up. A new slogan might be: Why Get Dressed When You’re Depressed?”


“It’s a Sponge Bob nation,” I said. 


Let us imagine our respective faces and gestures. Faces still matter. 


My face has harvested black currants. 


When I was five years old I danced around the house buck naked while wearing a cowboy hat. “I’m the bare cowboy!” I said. I thought this was the funniest thing on earth. That was a face. 


Nothing terrifies us more than godforsaken faces. Let your face always spark. 


Let it be real and alive. 


Imagine this for your friend. 


Imagine it for someone you don’t necessarily like. 


Every face is a foreign dialect we can get to know. 


Yes, I’m blind but I know your face. 


I heard it on the telephone. 





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April and Silence

Always what happens is more than we can carry, said the old Swedish poet. Being blind I grow upward like a birch. I trust sunset. I expect it will do something for me. I think late day clouds are like humans who do not show their faces.

As the day ends I think of reconciliations and walk my beloved dog, a Labrador, who understands traffic. I daydream in the new deep of night. As a boy I harvested black currants with shears. Now I see them again, those scissors, cold among wet leaves.

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Morning Notes, April 24

Someone is always right or wrong. Isaac Newton slept on the floor. I wish the wood cutter would wake up. I want you to carry Livingston’s mummified body straight across Africa. Don’t give me that look. Open the portmanteau.

There are tiny stitches in my eyes. I’ve Frankenstein’s eyeballs. Occasionally I see, up close, the leaden birds of tragedy. Peck peck. They eat the very air.

One of the birds told me, that in a tragic view of the world, everything is hearsay.

Reading Plutarch’s essay: “How to Profit by One’s Enemies”. Better than the daily news.

You don’t get me. I don’t get you. But I won’t lie to you.

All of us must practice reality.

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Jack Kerouac in Spring Rain

I am not sentimental. I am very sentimental. I’m not easy. I’m very easy.

This morning I’m letting reality weigh itself. I’m very free.

Unlike Jack Kerouac I’m not in a hurry. Maybe that’s because I can’t drive.

(Well, blind people, “can” drive, but it’s not advisable, especially

if we generally like humanity, and I “do” love my odd, dented, still aborning

fellow citizens…)

I’m free…and yes, I’m thinking of Kerouac this morning in particular:

i will write

it, all the talk of the world

everywhere in this morning, leav-

ing open parentheses sections

for my own accompanying inner

thoughts-with roars of me

all brain-all world

roaring-vibrating-I put

it down, swiftly, 1,000 words

(of pages) compressed into one second

of time-I’ll be long

robed & long gold haired in

the famous Greek afternoon

of some Greek City

(from Daydreams for Ginsberg) 

Ha! Inner thoughts, with layers of roar—brain that!

Architectonic thoughts, striated, simultaneous, with electrolysis—turn it up!

Fast Greek! Kero-stotle! Naked! Dancing in the Agora! Open parentheses…

Reminds me of the “lecture” (the big one) about the Greeks, back in college, Freshman year.

Old Prof stands, looks at hundreds of students, raises his index finger, sez:

“What’s the first thing Aristotle did in the morning?”

No answer from the students.

“He hiked up his toga and took a piss!”

Students didn’t know if it was OK to laugh.


Kero-stotle, robed & long gold haired in the famous Greek afternoon, takes a pee….

Thinks meantime, 1000 words (of pages) compressed into one second.

Kero-stotle wants to go exceptionally fast.

He thinks time is running out.

Those guys over in Jersey invented the atom bomb.

All world, roaring.

Don’t sit there, so weak minded.

Do the Whitman “thing”—go up on the tenement roof and make barbaric noises.

Even Barbarians had points of view.

Write fast.

Drive faster.

Advantage over old Greeks: automobile.

Pounding, seething across Indiana, telephone poles lifting like they’d been electroshocked.

Poetry has advantages over prose:

It extends your eyelashes.

More feeling, less bloat.

“How do you know you’re alive, Son?”

“Because zig zag lines of lightning pour along my arms, officer.”

Even the Greeks would have had difficulty making sense of Indiana.

Jack Kerouac. A better poet than he was a prose writer:

 211th Chorus

The wheel of the quivering meat


Turns in the void expelling human beings,

Pigs, turtles, frogs, insects, nits,

Mice, lice, lizards, rats, roan

Racinghorses, poxy bucolic pigtics,

Horrible unnameable lice of vultures,

Murderous attacking dog-armies

Of Africa, Rhinos roaming in the


Vast boars and huge gigantic bull

Elephants, rams, eagles, condors,

Pones and Porcupines and Pills-

All the endless conception of living


Gnashing everywhere in Consciousness

Throughout the ten directions of space

Occupying all the quarters in & out,

From supermicroscopic no-bug

To huge Galaxy Lightyear Bowell

Illuminating the sky of one Mind-


I wish I was free

of that slaving meat wheel

and safe in heaven dead.

Poor Jack Kerouac! The body is a prison. His. Ours. And even if you didn’t think so, say, because you love your Ivory Soap, the ten directions of space will finish you off just as surely as the attacking dog-armies…Ach! What a mortal mess. What meat bags we are! All of us. Soap only masks the inevitable. Poor Jack! Gnashing everywhere in consciousness! No respite, no matter where you look in creation! From virus to supernova—everything is excreting from its bowels, what’s an amateur Buddhist, ex-Catholic to do? Play his guitar of course. His blue guitar. “I wish I was free/of that slaving meat wheel/and safe in heaven dead.”

There’s no evidence that “safe” counts in Heaven—one must fairly ask (as Alan Turing did) if consciousness can exist at tall outside the body. You see? Kerouac can’t resist jumping from Buddhism to Catholicism at thinned out edges of his poem.

I love him for that.

I love that he’s just like us.

Blues. Bravado. Wishes. A few lies. Some dreams. And he can make you laugh or cry. All while taking dizzying steps.

Kerouac the poet, writes an elegy for Charley Parker:

241st Chorus

And how sweet a story it is

When you hear Charley Parker

tell it,

Either on records or at sessions,

Or at official bits in clubs,

Shots in the arm for the wallet,

Gleefully he Whistled the



Anyhow, made no difference.

Charley Parker, forgive me-

Forgive me for not answering your eyes-

For not having made in indication

Of that which you can devise-

Charley Parker, pray for me-

Pray for me and everybody

In the Nirvanas of your brain

Where you hide, indulgent and huge,

No longer Charley Parker

But the secret unsayable name

That carries with it merit

Not to be measured from here

To up, down, east, or west-

-Charley Parker, lay the bane,

off me, and every body

Thank you Jack Kerouac. Thank you for writing ”Nirvanas of your brain”—just the right gift for Charley Parker’s ghost—“merit/Not to be measured from here”. Thank you Jack Kerouac for finally answering Charley Parker’s eyes. Thank you for writing a jazz prayer. Thank you for thinking of a horn player as a secret, unsayable angel. Thank you for praying to his spirit: “lay the bane,/off me, and every body”. Let us be relieved, every one, from the terrors of addiction and money and hungers. And thank you for the tenderness, Jack Kerouac. Maybe it makes no difference but I’m not convinced and neither were you. Thank you for not being convinced.

Oh and you were dirty and funny just like us, Jack:


Tryna get to sunny Californy’ –

Boom. It’s the awful raincoat

making me look like a selfdefeated self-murdering imaginary gangster, an idiot in a rueful coat, how can they understand my damp packs – my mud packs –

„Look John, a hitchhiker’

„He looks like he’s got a gun underneath that I. R. A. coat’

‘Look Fred, that man by the road’ „Some sexfiend got in print in 1938 in Sex Magazine’ –

„You found his blue corpse in a greenshade edition, with axe blots’   

I’ve hitchhiked some. Blind. Walking dizzying steps of days and nights in America’s liminal spaces, half in, half out of culture, twisting by the side of the road. It’s a liberated vagrancy.

Boom. They drive right past. “I wouldn’t want to ride with you anyway…”

Jack, America, properly, at its best, was always shabby. (How Lewis and Clark must have stank!)

Thank you for your Haikus:

Haiku (The low yellow…)

The low yellow

moon above the

Quiet lamplit house.



Birds singing

in the dark

—Rainy dawn


Early morning gentle rain,

two big bumblebees

Humming at their work


Bluejay drinking at my

saucer of milk,

Throwing his head back


Men and women

Yakking beneath

the eternal void


In my medicine cabinet

   the winter fly

has died of old age


Shall I break God’s commandment?

  Little fly

Rubbing its back legs


My pipe unlit

  beside the Diamond

Sutra – what to think?


Early morning yellow flowers,

thinking about

the drunkards of Mexico.


No telegram today

only more leaves




boy smashing dandelions

with a stick.


Holding up my

purring cat to the moon

I sighed.


Drunk as a hoot owl,

writing letters

by thunderstorm.


Empty baseball field

a robin

hops along the bench.


All day long

wearing a hat

that wasn’t on my head.


Crossing the football field

coming home from work –

the lonely businessman.


After the shower

among the drenched roses

the bird thrashing in the bath.


Snap your finger

stop the world –

rain falls harder.



too dark to read the page

too cold.


Following each other

my cats stop

when it thunders.


Wash hung out

by moonlight

Friday night in May.


The bottoms of my shoes

are clean

from walking in the rain.


Glow worm

sleeping on this flower –

your light’s on.


Thank you Jack Kerouac. For allowing your journeys to visit me. For saying there is nothing to be astonished about; there is everything to be astonished about.

For saying we can try out a hundred masks, then throw them all away before the void.

For daring to be the schoolboy who delightedly writes and rewrites misspelled word.

I like you better when you’re not in a car. You were a fine poet who got lured into prose. I think the skyscrapers hurt you.

I like you better when you stand before your bathroom mirror.

I like you better when you express your feelings with a broken pencil.

I am not sentimental. I am very sentimental. I’m not easy. I’m very easy.

This morning I’m letting reality weigh itself. I’m very free.

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Of Poetry, Blogging, and Disability

I’ve been blogging for eight years. Most days my blog offers a quirky “combo” of disability rights and the topical. Very often it’s more than a wee bit influenced by poetry. Accordingly Planet of the Blind isn’t for everyone. I sometimes write things like:

I wake and laugh. Unborn trees in the yard. Laugh and laugh.

There are so many minutes for which no proper names exist. Deep in the night I carved my name on a seed. Now I’ve awakened outside the broken temple. 

I studied poetry in my twenties and without further ado, I decided it was my candy store.

I’ve come to know both poetry and disability are often unexplainable. (I don’t mean each can’t be examined—but only that their comprehensive meanings may elude us.)

Last week I told a lecture hall filled with young “to be” physicians at Columbia University no two people with disabilities are alike. And no two people who have the “same” disability are alike.

We should aim to be less “alike”.

I love this quote by Herman Hesse: “We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.”

Would that more able bodied people might learn to see disability as a complement.

Would that we might wake and laugh. There are so many minutes for which no proper names exist.


When I was fresh out of college I had the opportunity to travel some, and I did. Travel is broadening of course, but its also difficult if you have a disability. In my case I was both seriously visually impaired and unable to discuss the matter. Picture walking in strange cities hunched over, feigning sight, following shadows. That was my shtick.

The problem with a shtick is what it does to you on the inside. You know you’re dishonest. And walking along a big thoroughfare like Kurferstendam in Berlin you feel your dishonesty step by step. Why Berlin? I remember walking with five or six young scholars, all Fulbrighters like myself. They were admiring the sights. I was pretending to admire the sights.

On the inside I was scarcely able to trust myself. In Berlin I thought of Goethe’s axiom:  “Trust yourself, then you will know how to live.

If you don’t know how to walk safely you’re not living. In my twenties I lived a pantomime of freedom. I’ve written a great deal about this. What I haven’t said, at least not precisely, is that hiding a disability is another disability—the first is physical, the second is self-administered through an abeyance to culture. The culture doesn’t like your abnormality and you ingest that dislike, much like those cattle in France who eat poisonous flowers in the autumn. And you get used to eating the damned flowers. Goethe again: “Few people have the imagination for reality.

Giving up the flowers is the imagination. Do not, I repeat, do not eat the culture’s flowers.

Of course being “out” with a disability doesn’t save you. Oprah, etc. Being “out” means you’ve traded the shtick of passing, of invisibility, for adventitious and hourly discourses with opposition.

Yum yum! You’re not eating flowers. You’re in a Starbucks in the Newark airport eating a blueberry muffin and your guide dog eyes you and twelve other people, strangers all, are eyeing you because you’re significantly different and roving eyeballs enjoy novelty and you’re the novelty de jour. So even eating your muffin you’re a discourse of difference and sometimes the whole thing is silent—you hear the muffin going down your throat—and sometimes the thing becomes vocal as one of the strangers can’t resist and opens a conversation this way:

Stranger (business man type, with London Fog overcoat): “I knew a blind person once…”

(There’s nuance to this—he knew a blind guy in college, or a blind person who lived down the street.)

Sometimes the stranger asks if I actually knew the aforementioned blind person because after all, shouldn’t all blind people know each other?

You’re chewing your muffin and thinking “what if I asked him if he knows all the other men wearing London Fog raincoats?”

Stranger man sees your blindness. His language is cultural. He sees your difference. He may be sincerely interested. But by definition he isn’t talking to you with full intelligence. And you think about the reasons why this should be so: his bad schooling, his parochial experiences with physical difference; years of bad movies and TV; a vaguely decent neo-Victorian sentimentality pulsing through his veins. But no matter, you’re now a figure of difference and now you must decide how to avoid the self-administered abeyance to culture that once upon a time marked your efforts to “pass” as a sighted person and which now, threaten you with the “flip side”—your role when “out” is to make physical abnormality seem like a snap. My muffin tastes like dark flowers. I take a sip of house blend. I chew.

Do you see how mediocre this is?

Now you’re in a fix. The stranger’s invitation to talk is also an invitation to participate in conversational pornography—“inspiration porn” whereby you, the disabled one, say moderately inspirational things. Or majorly inspirational things. Or the stranger says inspirational things, like, “I knew a blind guy once who could take apart a radio and put it back together.”


I knew a blind guy who climbed a mountain. I knew a blind guy who went sky diving. Who caught more fish than the rest of us combined…

And you want to say—I knew a short guy once. I knew a short guy who could reach the peanut butter on the top shelf with a special device called a step-ladder. He was amazing. Really inspirational. 

But you don’t because its easier to get out of the intrusive moment by being as mono-syllabic as possible. Or you use the dog as a ploy. I’ve got to go. The dog needs to go out.

And you walk around the bloody monolith of the airport feeling the trap of performativity. Your script is handed to you and you can tear it up if you wish. You could screw with the guy’s head and say:

Yeah all blind people know each other. We have psychic powers as the Greeks well knew.

You could eat the flower arrangements on the table.

You could tell him you’re a misanthrope and urge him to go away.

But the best of you is empathetic.

What you say has become more refined over the years.

I don’t talk about blindness. There are agencies for that. Lets talk about neutrinos. 




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