Tag Archives: blindness

For My Mother

I wish the last face I ever saw was yours
Your bright green eyes, your complexion warm and kind
That would be a sight worth cherishing, after I saw nothing more
And your smile, the one expression etched forever in my mind

That look that says, I will always love you fully
I would carry deep within me, to return to, home inside
A stable touchstone, a reminder, that I am whole and holy
Whenever I am struggling, each time I long to hide

I’d replace that ever-present, soul-seared sneer of hate
With the colors of compassion in your soft soothing gaze
And in the places where the harsh shadows wait
Yours would be the lingering face, the gentleness behind closed eyes

I wish I could erase the projections from my map, the fear and false belief
With its overgrown topography, all that’s cruel and haunted
And in its place I’d trace an infant’s landscape in relief
The clay composed of safety, trust, and always feeling wanted

And if I could give one gift to you
Here’s what it would be
To discover, despite all I’ve been through
Your picture in a memory

*********

The last face I ever saw, the only face I have a visual memory of, is the face of the person who abused me when I was six months old. Until I recently recovered the memory and varified it was accurate, I never realized that the face I imagined often in my mind’s eye when I was beeing the cruelest and harshest on myself was identical to this person’s face.

With that discovery, I started to wonder what it would have been like to instead remember my parents’ faces (my brothers weren’t born yet.) I wondered how it might have been different if I had internalized the loving faces of my family, before they had to face what happened to me: faces that held the joy and love of two people who had just brought a new child into the world. If I had a visual memory of that love, even if everything else happened as it did, what might be different?

And for someone who has always believed it was impossible to remember what it was like to see, having even just a glimpse of that experience is still taking a lot of time to process. It was like gaining and losing something simultaneously. And the rest I don’t have words for yet.

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Demeter’s Fire

Six months old she is
When I begin gathering her in my arms,
To gently rock her
Within the flames.

I stand by her fiercely
Every night, with love,
Sweep away the ashes
Of the no longer needed.

With ardent joy I watch her change
As the outer shell dissolves,
Her eyes take on a charcoal grey
And raw and radiant, she burns to live.

Stop, stop! her mother cries
Tearing tears from raging eyes,
Her fervent passion rivals mine,
Equal, by the love with which we’re both defined

What are you doing to my child?
I am seeing to her being wild.
Bone deep the memories I set alight,
To the song of the soul I sing each night.

I do not deliver death on one so small,
The smallness itself is all that dies.
Who questions me, when there’s only love behind
what to you appears, at once, harsh and strange?

I, born of eternal light divine,
I lit the wisdom in the child’s eyes,
Set smoldering, her limits, to shine her light free,
Turned resilient and bright all she can be.

Do not tear her from my arms
As with Demeter of old,
Do not misunderstand
Healing in unfamiliar guise.

Do not be mistaken
By what you’ve been told.
Though tried, she will rise
Brilliant and bold.

I know, for I too am self-made
And could not help but recognize
My kindred, spark which can’t be tamed
Which as well within myself resides.

Let me hold her,
Until she knows her name,
Until trembling, leaping
Through a waking world, she flies,

And with our ones
Who stir the sleeping,
Though she’ll not see
Her world the same,

She’ll be as the sun
Is to the dreaming
Rekindling the hearths
No one thought would blaze again.

Then through this life, let me carry her,
These trials, triumphs to the wise.
There is no loss here undertaken,
She is opening her eyes.

Culture Shock

“There’s a dog under your seat,” I helpfully alert the woman who has just sat down next to me on the bus.

“Oh, sorry!” she exclaims, as if this were somehow her fault, or a thing to apologize for. “Should I sit somewhere else?”

“You can sit over here,” another middle aged woman across from us suggests.

“It’s all right, you don’t have to move,” I explain, “I just wanted to let you know.”

“Well, the dog hasn’t touched me, and I haven’t touched the dog yet, so I didn’t know he was there. He probably hasn’t sniffed me because I’m wearing clean clothes and don’t smell like a dog.” Because, obviously, him not sniffing you has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a working dog and is, for once! Behaving, I think to myself, before adding the thought, was the cleanliness of your clothing in question? I decide I never want to find out, because someone who makes a great point about having clean clothes today probably doesn’t wear clean clothes often enough for this to be normal.

I now go back to almost falling asleep while sitting up straight. Besides my closed eyes, I appear very alert. In fact, if I were not on a bus I would definitely fall asleep sitting up and wake up to find I haven’t moved in the slightest. I know there are a lot of strange traits people can inherit, I’m really happy about having this one, though it’s more amusing than practical at this point.

I’m still tired when I get off the bus. I’ve gotten off at a stop before the one I usually travel to, so I can check out a restaurant that has apparently wonderful sandwiches and is seriously inexpensive. I’ve decided not to take out my Braille computer with the GPS as this will only confound me logistically once I’m ordering inside. Nothing on the nearby buildings screams restaurant at me. I pass an alley but decide I’m definitely not going down there. That couldn’t be it! Besides I am now getting a picture from Caoilte who is hanging out with me in pure energy form that the alley doesn’t look at all inviting to him when considering it from my point of view.

I ask directions. I patiently correct the college undergrad who insists I have to keep walking several blocks in the other direction. I know this as much is false: I looked it up with a sighted person on a map yesterday. Finally the woman says, “Oh it’s right here! I’ll walk with you.”

I decide I’m very grateful for the offer. But my excitement ebbs substantially as we turn left down the alley. “It’s down here?” I ask, as if asking the question might change its truth value. “I noticed the corridor earlier but immediately ruled it out. I would have never found it down here, even with a GPS.”

“Yeah, it’s this way,” the student replies, I think a bit sympathetically. Allegro and I walk down what would be a narrow tunnel if only the roofs of the two buildings we pass between, already too close to us, were to meet in the middle. I would be able to touch the walls of the buildings if I were to stand in the middle of the walk and hold out my arms, I think glumly. Have I mentioned I sincerely dislike tunnels… and alleys… and any underground or almost underground place? This better be one marvelous restaurant.

The situation gets even more precarious as we descend a winding set of large, unevenly spaced steps which in their entirety make a U-turn. We *are* going under ground. In an alley. On not the most particularly safe street in Berkeley. This isn’t good.

Caoilte, of course, had the right idea, and I was too determined to see for myself anyway. At least I am being curious and optimistic, I tell myself, searching for at least one redeeming quality in my decision.

But I’m not feeling optimistic—okay I am curious—but increasingly wary, out of my comfort zone. “It’s just right here on your left,” announces the student cheerily as she leaves me near the doorway. Allegro tries to follow her. I steel myself before going inside. I already began this morning feeling tired and like I might not be up for a mission impossible episode. I am now not only concerned but feeling like a stranger in a strange land. In fact, the more this day has gone on, the more I’m feeling like an alien.

My alienation only increases as I step through the restaurant door. I ask a man if he’s at the end of the line, and getting the affirmative, move to stand behind him. He then asks me if I can move farther right, apparently I find out after complying, because Allegro is blocking the rather tiny entrance. I might be helping people leave in my new location, but am officially out of line now, no pun intended.

Still, I have a moment to take in my surroundings: a motley crew of diverse people coming and going quickly and talking surprisingly quietly considering, all against the backdrop of some rather offensive rap music which is spiced up with more epithets than dogs have flees (with the exception of service and other well looked after dogs of course, who all dress in clean fur.)

I can see Caoilte standing next to me. Thank goodness, even though I swear he looks a bit crestfallen and out of place. I send him a picture in sympathetic agreement that, were he me in the modern world, his feelings might not be all that different. I am increasingly feeling like I don’t belong here. I keep looking around to make sure I have a good handle on what’s going on, but am simultaneously berating myself for being hyper-vigilant just because of the presence of gangsta rap. And the fact that I’m in an alley. Underground. These are not the details of a place you get while virtually walking down the street on your computer screen. Modern technology is not helping me feel comfortable, or like I belong, or know what to do, or give me the confidence that I’m safe.

I have barely moved in line. But a woman with an accent I can’t place walks up to me and says in a voice that makes me feel sick before I can help myself, “I’m here to help you, dear. What can I put on your sandwich?”

“Thank you for the offer,” I say through proverbial gritted teeth which are incredibly still plastered into a smile, “It’s not my turn in line yet. I don’t want to cut in front of anyone.”

However, about sixty or more seconds of me repeating various forms of this protest and her repeating various forms of patronizing attempts of assistance later, along with further primarily four letter lyrics from the overhead speakers, I feel myself give up. That is not a strange way to put it. I literally have the feeling of giving up, it feels like being dropped down a few of those stairs outside the door, and landing, not hard on the ground as one might expect, but on a very thin barrier between me and an eternal abyss which could give way at any minute. It is at this moment that a single word, precarious, flashes through my mind.

I continue to feel this way as I stumble blindly, pun intended, through the motions of finishing my order, getting the sandwich, and leaving. I can tell I’m not that present. Most of me, who was wishing to be anywhere else but here for a long time, sensibly left, leaving my very small self to handle it. This small self feels and acts a lot like she’s thirteen.

With a sense of detached dismay and the dread of impending familiarity which only comes with reentering patterns you thought were long gone, I watch as a Tongue-tied, awkward, clumsy version of myself plays the summarily given role of the helpless blind girl, exhibiting the confidence of a toddler about to skydive solo with a parachute. Oh. No. I think despondently, and then suddenly hit with the horror of the situation the thought changes to a much more authoritative, oh no you don’t!

Shortly thereafter, I get myself and Allegro out of the restaurant and moving up the stairs as fast as possible. I’d like to say that this is when my journey to the sandwich underworld ends. I can say, fortunately, that I’ve succeeded at not catering to my inner teenager again. However, the whole rest of the day has been fraught with an inexplicable sense of displacement which I can’t figure out how to eliminate, and not for lack of trying.

It is as if the whole of the modern world has been slightly unintelligible to me, so that engaging in conversation has taken way too much energy while I consciously assess and recall the right social norms in the way I imagine an anthropologist would while visiting a different culture. I have to say that spending most of the day in the library has been an enormous relief. And I have no trouble at all continuing sending pictures to Caoilte. Alienation of this kind, unlike dissociation or general disconnection, doesn’t seem to impact otherworld relationships and I am in profound gratitude for that. It means that I am not disappearing, merely experiencing culture shock. I can handle it in small doses.

It is only when I step off the return bus in front of my building that the strange, physical world effecting disconnect dissolves back into the mysterious nowhere from which it comes. It is a bit like waking from a dream. Everything is clear and vibrant and hopeful. The fog, that retrospectively I think might have been there, possibly, is gone now. I bound up the stairs with Allegro telling him excitedly that he’ll get to eat soon, and picking up on my refound joy, he wags his tail all the way to my front door. I gratefully return back to my familiar surroundings and my ancient family, and myself.

In the future I’ll pay more attention and listen the first time.

I Resisted, I Got Inspired, I Tweeted

This is a post about how I started tweeting, some poems I have tweeted, and a fun venture you can join me in tweeting about.

I’m not enamored with social media. Don’t get me wrong, I like media—music, poetry, art, storytelling, informative news– and I like being social, so I see nothing inherently problematic about combining the two. But I’m hesitant to jump onto popular social media band wagons for two simple reasons.

First, most social media websites take an inordinately long time to navigate when the person trying to get around them is totally blind. I once tried planting plants in three friends’ farm patches on facebook, and after an hour and a half of technical negotiation, none of which involved down websites or malfunctioning programs, I succeeded. Which leads to the second reason I’m suspicious of engaging in too much social media: even if the sites were accessible, I believe I would get just as obsessed with posting on them as I already am and waste lots of precious time which I could spend on my career or, perhaps more importantly, on socializing with friends over email or in person which won’t result in PDC (i.e. Public Display of Communication.)

I’ve used facebook since my sophomore year in college when it first came out and was a way for students at top American universities to connect with one another and the friend requests you would accept were from people you were already close friends with. You know, back in the day…

Mostly I now use facebook to participate in closed private groups because anything I want to post on there is usually something I ought not associate with my real name: I’m still in the broom closet. Actually I am technically at the moment in my living room, the closet is metaphorical.

But, it’s surprising how often, as a pagan, I have to be exceedingly careful, especially as I have as many friends in the physical world as on the other side, and that’s not considered normal. If only facebook let you have more than one identity! (I’m sure men and women fleeing abusive relationships and double-agent spies would appreciate this as much as closeted pagans and other targeted minorities, facebook! Come on with it then…)

In any case, although twitter does allow, fortunately, sensibly, responsibly, for as many identities as you like, I struggled for a long time with actually getting onto twitter. I kept feeling like I am this old fashioned thirty-something person who likes face to face communication, and more importantly, I’m a person. Whoever heard of a person tweeting? The concept sounded so absurd to me. I mean, if I walked into a room and five or six people were literally standing around tweeting, I’d get concerned, and quickly. Especially if their vocal bird calls were too convincing. Then I would probably sincerely ask them if they were channeling bird spirits—and I don’t mean the kind of spirits birds might consume to get intoxicated.

I decided therefore that I never wanted it to be said of me that I had tweeted. I imagined a list of modern honors and deeds one might recount upon a person’s death: “She was a wonderful person, no one has ever spoken ill of her, she was a loyal friend, she was never rude in the use of her cell phone, and she has tweeted.”

This imagined scenario made me shutter and adamantly think, not of me, please! I felt like tweeting might once and for all situate me in the modern age, an age I often don’t understand and even less often agree with. Not that past ages were any better. But I live now, so I can point out what’s wrong about the present and usually get away with it, and with sympathy.

That all changed when Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty posted an invitation to tweet love poems based on Irish mythology to coincide with the coming out of their jointly written book, Grá Mo Chroí, , which I encourage everyone to read! It’s a wonderful book. And, what is more, once I read the previously mentioned invitation, my antitweet resolve began breaking down. To my astonishment, I found myself creating a twitter account. Then, to much less astonishment and great fun, I discarded my, albeit never officially stated, vow to refrain from having tweeted, and have tweeted (twittered?) more times than I can count now.

I’m not sure what the protocol is about posting tweeted things on a blog, but here are a few of my tweeted poems. I’ll create another post with poems by/about my ancient family more directly, as they deserve a space of their own.

***

Together sound
Songbird and foghorn
Take care, come listen
Sirens seaward cry
A soaring and a warning
As day sings itself awake

***

To walk the path
Steeped in mystery
With false starts strewn
Step lightly
One word, yes
Begins your hero’s journey

***

The six encircle me in love
At the center
I, shaped as a star
Enfolded within
Their single light
Resonate with joy

***

Fierce passion Consumed their young souls
Now centuries flown
In the otherworld
They are love
A gentle light
Between them grown

***

Landscape aches
For ancient reverence
Carve a place
A new old way
Weave the pattern
Of what happens
Into being
Come home you say

***

Fretful my night
Until your light fills
This space, glowing
Dissolving my fear
Your silent strength
Guides your lost child home

***

Finally, I love playing around with words and decided to create a hashtag called #absurdwordnerd under which to write ridiculous new definitions of words. Creatively changing the word by adding or subtracting a letter and then redefining it is also totally silly and acceptable. For example:
Indentured servant: a servant with false teeth. #absurdwordnerd

I am doing this just because why not, and because I think the world needs more humor. So come participate whenever inspiration hits you (just ask it to hit nicely.)

Wanderer of the Desert _ When Two Worlds Meet: Part 1

It is the spring of my fifth year at Stanford, and I am engaged in the highly stressful endeavor of applying for, and then receiving acceptances from graduate programs in philosophy. It is a time that now I am thoroughly relieved is in the past. The culture of the aspiring undergraduates in our program is, retrospectively, much more like a fundamentalist religious cult (with the strange difference being enforced critical thinking) than a typical academic department. The six students applying for graduate school this year, of which I am one, have formed a tight knit if competitive cohort, fervently engaged in an almost obsessive solidarity that I find familiar enough to not question (and I still don’t want to know why.)

My peers and I routinely discuss things such as how the search for truth is the most superior calling and that we would die for our ideas. We unfortunately mean this literally. (I am glad my past self was not tested on this.) We hold that the absolute worst thing that can happen to an undergrad is to not get into grad school. We frequently proclaim our slogan “Don’t get left behind!” While outwardly we pretend to be rational autonomous agents who are not at all conforming to a bizarre conception of the world, inwardly we grapple with our fears and insecurities that we will never be enough. Admittedly, I now tend to cringe at how ridiculous we were and can’t quite figure out what came over us. But this is particularly true concerning one of my fellow cohort members who proudly confided to me that she routinely quoted Plato during sex. This, I tell her in the moment, is taking things too far, even for me, and I ask her to just keep that to herself from now on. Please?

As it happens, I am one of the five out of six fortunates who do not “get left behind.” I get into two graduate programs. My fate is secure. However, the letter offering me a place at the University of Anonymous Desert, comes only two days before I must send in my acceptance. Two hours later I’ve booked a flight for seven AM the next morning to visit the school. Despite my culture shock (which I discount as I have experienced culture shock at every grad school I’ve visited,) I decide after my whirlwind encounter that the people at the school are nice. Speaking of the wind, I also notice that I can literally hear voices on the wind that tell me which direction its blowing, and this fascinating phenomenon helps persuade me to return and investigate further. After much anxiety and tears and irritating my parents, I commit to attend the school in the desert in the fall.

Around this time, my parents sell our family home, the one I’ve grown up in since I was three years old. Then, weeks before I move to an unfamiliar state to begin my program and live self-sufficiently for the first time, my parents separate. The death of their marriage has been a slow and painful one. Though part of me recognizes their separation is probably the best thing to ever happen to our family—they brought out the worst in each other—I am also broken-hearted and devastated. Part of me wonders whether, had I never been shaken as an infant, the marriage would still be intact, though I know this is as far from the truth as the assertion in a scene of Monty Python, “The Holy Grail,” that small rocks float.

It only takes a month or two in my graduate program before I realize, my family situation notwithstanding, that I have made a terrible mistake. I can’t stand feeling like a number rather than a person. I can’t stand the three digit temperatures. I can’t stand mustering up the courage to speak up in class just to have my ideas unceremoniously dismissed without even the courtesy of an argument, and in front of my colleagues besides. I am displaced, not just from my childhood home, the security of a two-parent household, and the only state I’ve ever lived in: I also, slowly, begin to become estranged to myself. I do not recognize this woman struggling to be seen and heard, who is not respected for her ideas, who is barely surviving without sight or assistance in a literally hostile environment.

Still, I do not think of leaving, regardless of how much it is, and it really is, killing my sense of self-worth and breaking my spirit, delighting in making me small, molding me into a “presentable vegetable” courtesy of the Logical Song.

First, there is the fact of my commitment and that leaving would be to break it, and that, I am convinced, would be giving up in a shamefully dishonorable way. But secondly, where would I go? My time in the nest is over.

My dad now lives in a small apartment and is dating a woman whom he eventually marries. My mom has moved to a funky rental and is struggling to get back into the workforce after twenty-seven years as a homemaker. I will be more secure in the grad program than trying to make it in the real world where my address is from nowhere. I stay.

As one year drearily trudges numbly into the next, my grip on the core part of myself, who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in, why I am here, slowly sinks beneath the red sands, like the horse from Never Ending Story who drowned in the swamp of sadness as he was pursued by The Nothing. The Nothing is so quiet, that I never notice its gradual erosion of who I once was until no trace of it remains. Then, one morning, I awake to a day like all the rest: except I don’t know who I am. Having no energy or will to grieve such a loss, I stumble on with little sense of purpose or meaning, and even now, much of that time is lost to disassociation, out of the reach of memory.

November of 2007 sees the final drawing up of my parents’ divorce papers. Meanwhile, the landscape around me at the school mirrors the raw and barren, thorny, and parched landscape of my heart. Up until now, I’ve spent my whole life living in the Bay Area, California. I’m used to and love the golden hills, the green lawns and chattering trees, and most of all, the ocean. But here, here the desert sands ooze red like blood, canyons gape open like mouths fiercely begging for a rain to quench an eon of thirst; here the wind gathers itself and rumbles across the earth like a living animal. Here people promise themselves in strange awkward moments that a scientist somewhere must be hard at work at this very moment, creating a pesticide that will get rid of the vast infestation of dust that takes over their houses, floats in films onto their dishware, scurries into their clothing, sifts through their hair, settles into their ears and mouths, suffocates their souls. For like the parched clay within my heart, dried out and hardened from the intense heat of anger, frozen by my fears, stilled by the silence I keep in order to survive where I do not belong, the landscape surrounding me is hostile and defensive and sometimes literally locks its tenderness away, displaying nothing but spikes on the outside.

The philosophy department in this earth-cracked, hungry place is full of bigoted and sexist graduate students and prejudiced professors. One graduate student tells me after an argument in which I announce that if the department is going to give me ninety students to teach, it is my responsibility to give each of them an equal opportunity to learn, even if my research falls behind for this reason: “It would behoove you to adopt our values, or leave.” There is the professor not on my committee who expresses surprise that I have passed my comprehensive exams. There is the professor who insists that I have made a pact with most of her colleagues to grade me leniently due to my blindness, a statement I still have in writing. In fact, my miserable situation even seeps into my dreams: I dream that, at a department meeting, all my colleagues turn into eighth graders. True enough, my experience is very much reminiscent of middle school.

This desert, which I have now endured for two long years, leaves my bones dry and brittle, leaves my soul thread-bear and gulping for water, raw and cold like a piece of forgotten old stone. Inside or out, I am nowhere. I have no home, and for this reason, through the years in the desert, I wander like a nomad, like one of a lost people yearning for a promised land without the benefit of believing that a god will grant such a place to me.

For during this time I also shed the last vestiges of Christianity and throw myself whole-heartedly into following the earth-centered path I have always followed, whose name I have only now learned. I am ecstatic to realize that there are others like me in the here and now, and I can claim the ancient ways of my own ancestors. Somehow amidst the despair, I honor mother earth, hold sacred the land, sea, and sky, and speak to the old ones. This revelation somewhat complicates my graduate experience however as it also means living in the broom closet. According to my department members, the only sane position on spirituality is atheism and anyone deviating from this world view is stupid, irrational, and not worth anyone’s time. There is no attempt to tolerate others’ differences, and even the Christian in the program finds himself at the center of ridicule and insult. So I live a double life, unable to be honest with my colleagues, in constant fear of discovery.

At the end of spring 2011, and nearing the end of my coursework, the smoldering remains of the silent cry within myself keens so loudly for freedom that I can no longer ignore the necessity of leaving. I am so tired of wandering. I have wandered this desert for six years. I take a six month lease apartment in the fall to make sure I don’t change my mind. I’m too far along to leave the school, but I can make an exodus, like Moses out of the American Sahara back to my home in the Bay Area, where I can write my dissertation on virtue and interdependence. I will return to the rolling brown hills, green trees and winding trails, and water. Dear, inviting, vital ocean whose rhythm is my heartbeat.

Not even a new relationship, the first one in as many years as I’ve been a graduate student, can detour me from home. With tears in my eyes I leave for a long distance arrangement and for an apartment in Berkeley, surrounded by family and friends, soft mist, the silent bay, and people who won’t figuratively cut off my head if they learn I am a druid. (As a philosopher I very much value my head, thanks.)

Finally I start to grow and heal. Finally I can dissolve into a sacred space of becoming, from which I might emerge changed, but enough, re-membered into cohesion, renewed. Perhaps I will even once again be able to hear the voices on the wind and look into the world beyond the world, which now is lost to me. Perhaps, I can spin a cocoon around my broken pieces so that the withered fragments I have become can mend me, weaving themselves into new wings with which to fly.

The Difficulty with Making New Friends

Isolation is a frozen pond,
Achingly glacial blue.
Breaking the surface,
I can’t gloss over what doesn’t serve me anymore.

The future holds people I might come to know and befriend,
But I would have to talk to strangers,
And the past with its doubts shatters me–
Waits to lap up the tears that won’t fall.

What about it? Taking off into the world,
Tramping onto buses,off trains,
Tired, traversing time and uncharted roads,
Just to meet someone who might not love me?

I spend too much time alone in empty spaces,
So I’ll have to reach out, start again,
A falling star, hopefully crash landing into belonging.
Think again, if that at all sounds reassuring.

Despite this, I put myself in your hands,
I will take the steps unknowing,
Going out into the world once more,
I am pulled into the earnest embrace of this year,

Like a moth to a flame.
How it roars and crackles,
And cackles, and cries,
And beckons and flails wildly.

The untamed, unpredictable choice is:
come together or fall apart.
But when it’s my turn to cross that threshold,
I fleetingly wish to be anywhere else.

Flashlight eyes,
Outstretched hands,
A place for me somewhere I can’t imagine,
Shining with love and compassion.

And there’s nothing about the mystery
To suggest anything but uncertainty,
Transformation could be as wondrous as painful,
Colliding into the light we’re drawn to.

Scorched into completion, the same reason
Why we can’t find pollution on the sun,
It all gets burned away,
In a flash, just like that.

It’s been said that we cannot be humble
Without suffering and sorrow,
So silently we provide them hospitality
To guarantee we won’t become full of ourselves.

But surely learning our worth, our strength and our care of it,
Is worth being proud of,
And we will never wake up if we believe
We don’t have it within us to open our eyes

Dialogue of the Birthday Blues

What’s the matter, you ask, and why
With so much to love, do you want to cry?
As you’re still young with time to dream,
Life gives more to you than you need.

***

I will tell you what, I say,
Thirty-two’s two days away.
Two years more than three times ten,
Yikes, I’m older once again!

I worry yet that naught I’ve grown:
I have no family of my own,
I’m breaking every social rule,
And darn it all, I’m still in school!

So here I sit, bemoan my fate,
So many milestones, come too late
I should have been done years ago,
Instead I’m lost and rather slow.

I don’t know what I want to do
Once formal learning’s finally through,
Uncertainty cuts like a knife,
I’m not sure what to make of life.

***

Oh no, you say, and have no fear,
You needn’t agree with all you hear,
False expectations of a crowd
Who compare and judge … and talk too loud.

Why believe the things they say?
There’s nothing wrong with you, anyway.
Why hurry to fulfill a role
That’s not imprinted on your soul?

***

To heed such wise advice, I should,
If only I could claim some good.
Has come from all those years unfurled,
But I’ve changed nothing in this world.

Try to understand my gloom.
I rarely venture from my room,
And when I do, it’s such a mess,
A misadventure full of stress.

The trouble still remains for me,
That I take too long since I can’t see.
I’ve no accomplishment at which to point
My life appears so out of joint.

Or so say my friends who can’t disguise,
The fear in pity in their eyes.
How did I go oh so astray,
How could I have turned out this way?

They remind me I’m a Stanford grad,
And should not have it half this bad.
“Where’s the house, the job, the date?”
Protest my friends? “You’ll be too late!”

***

I’d question friendship of that kind,
I’d tell them so if I’d half the mind
But they’re not the ones who trouble me:
I care too much for you, you see?

Why listen to such knotted lies
They’ll seal your place with gilded ties
Just leave those should haves on the shelf
You are the author of yourself.

Too many values and ways to be,
Don’t foster authenticity.
So many making this mistake,
Turn from the chance to live awake.

Good enough, it can’t be bought,
Or given out as you’ve been taught.
Living well takes skill and art,
It’s not in tick marks on a chart.

Your worth is with you when you’re born,
So there is nothing here to mourn.
You are always where you need to be,
And share your light so brilliantly.

Instruction of the Next Generation

It was a beautiful Thursday morning and I was out walking with my guide dog, Allegro, whom I have lately been referring to as “my labradorable,” because of his incredible cuteness. If it were safe to run the trail at Aquatic Park, perhaps we would have. But it isn’t safe to run with a guide dog, and this is particularly true for me because for some reason I often find myself ahead of my dog, and you just don’t want the blind human leading the sighted assistance dog. It defeats the whole point. Anyway, we resorted, instead, to walking so quickly that we could have been mistaken for running, but technically were not. Birds sang, very few people came by, the air was clear, the sun was shining but even in the sun it was wonderfully cool, and I was managing to be exceptionally quiet and not trip on anything which surprised me.

I had too much work to do to make the entire loop around the park that morning, so we stopped at an odd piece of wood and some other material imbedded for some inexplicable reason in the road, which makes an excellent landmark, and I gave Allegro a few minutes of being an ordinary dog. He sniffed around happily as I checked the time. We’d gone 3/4 of a mile in twenty minutes flat, which surprised me once again. I’m not particularly in shape, and I wasn’t running, of course.

Completely immersed in the joy of being able to move and be outside, we made time back the other direction just as quickly. I was not a “blind person on a walk,” although I was walking, and still blind. I did not “look blind” whatever that means, and the phrase should be abolished in my opinion. I looked like myself. I walked tall. Even when walking uphill I managed to stand straight, the way my dad taught me to do a few weeks ago. I smiled at people who walked by. I carried myself like I was sure of my belonging in this world, because of that I am completely sure. I did not move cautiously, but like I trust myself to find my way, and hold my own, because I am learning that I can.

Perhaps that is why the little boy said hi to me as I made my way up the sidewalk back to the main road. There was quite a gathering of children on the sidewalk, actually. I’m starting to wonder if there is an elementary school nearby there? Perhaps parents or teachers like to bring the kids there to play. The park has an extensive playground, awesome for a child. Most of the kids walking toward me were talking amongst themselves and this is honestly what I expected all of them to do. I was on a walk by myself and had no need to have a conversation with anyone.

But the last kid to walk by, who sounded like he was between ten and twelve, who was walking with an adult, slowed down and said hello. And I smiled at him and said hello in return and kept walking.

The adult with the group was either a teacher or his or someone else’s mother. I could hear both of their sets of footsteps behind me, and the woman slowed down slightly. The little boy asked, his voice conveying indignant confusion, “What!” I hear that same tone from kids who are being caught out at something which they shouldn’t have done. What, indeed? What had the kid done wrong?

But I could guess the what, in vivid detail. The “what” went like this: the kid had done nothing that “he shouldn’t have done,” but instead, he did something that “people don’t do.” It is a very important distinction, which the adult with him did not make, and by example started to teach him to not make it likewise. It starts with a look. You know the one. You’re fixed with it by someone with more power than you, usually while you are a child looking up, literally and figuratively to the older and wiser grown-ups around you. You got that look when you picked your nose in public, took off your bathing suit in the baby pool when you were a little too old to get away with it, and perhaps when you said hello to a person with a disability when you were twelve, because you’re sociable and like to acknowledge people you pass on the road. Shhhh, it isn’t done. But I’m on the little boy’s side here. What is that about? Why on earth isn’t it as normal to talk to me as it is to talk to anyone else? My abilities, or lack of them, should not matter that much.

Now, I am not advocating for everyone to pick their nose or run around naked. Most social norms are fine. They’re there for a reason, and a really good one at that. However, I become terribly, terribly sad when I see an adult perpetuating social norms that are exclusionary, that harmfully stereotype and prejudge those different from oneself. This kind of “us” and “other” mentality is the source of sexism, racism, and religious wars, as well as ablism– discrimination based on ability– and is at the root of many more instances of intolerant attitudes and actions as well. It perpetuates destructive social barriers, reinforcing a separateness that deforms relationships and further entrenches false beliefs and perceptions that are as devaluing of the people who hold them as they are of the people at whom such perceptions are aimed. What are we saying to our children when we admonish them for acting politely toward another human being, insinuating they have made some social blunder, insisting, wrongly, that the person they were about to speak to is in a different category, has a disability, and so needs to be treated accordingly?

This is how discrimination against people with disabilities continues, It is passed on from one generation to the next. It starts with the planting of a seed, and grows until we are afraid of one another, until we believe the stereotypes, the lies, the myth of our own separateness. Until we cannot think critically about the distinction between the inculcation of healthy social norms and the perpetuation of ignorance, misunderstanding, distrust, falsehood, and fear.

Sometimes children know more than we adults who think we are in fact so much older and therefore wiser. It is too easy to be like that woman and project your insecurities, stereotypes, and limiting beliefs onto the children in your care, or onto your friends and family who might think differently. I was unsure how to salvage the moment and reassure the adult, as much as the child, that it is perfectly okay to talk to someone who is blind. But there seemed little I could do. What would you do?

I continued believing in myself. I continued walking tall. I know the truth about myself no matter what others are or are not doing. I hoped the child might know an adult who could now teach him an even harder lesson: that not all adults are right, that we can make mistakes, grave mistakes, that we are all equal, and to trust himself. I kept on going my way. Then I decided to share this experience. What world do we want to leave to our children? The answer to that question rests, in part, on what we impart to them about the ways in which we live and accept and belong. It is as simple and as difficult as putting aside our preconceived notions of who we and other people ought to or are told to be, and being open to finding out who we really are, celebrating our differences, and by doing so, becoming part of the incredible difference that will make.

For The Sighted Child Who Never Woke Up

Last night I rocked you in my arms,
To the rhythm of the question which I ask with every heartbeat, why?

Did I think silence would answer me,
When I wondered aloud whether it was my fault?

Into the darkness you fell and could not rise,
Covered by a blanket of night without stars,

So do I run after you like a spark,
Or leave you behind without a word?

Crawling under the curtain between worlds,
Passed the water drip of time,

As if I could find within myself, still breathing,
You buried within the hollow hills of grieving.

Unable to defend your small fragile body,
You cry out for shelter, you almost died crying.

I am unable to notice the hands that reach out,
Convinced that, as before, my tears will banish me.

The infant with your perfect eyes and hands,
How can I conceive of you as my beginning?

If I was stronger, perhaps I could recover your memory,
But like an island, uncoordinated, that has lost it’s place within its map,

I wandered off into the mist, directionless,
And lost myself beneath the waves.

What am I doing here,
Convinced I don’t deserve the sunrise I won’t see?

How will I love, accept, and mend
The imperfect pieces left to me?

Again I will water the seeds of our growing,
Despite my anger, in knowing it is most likely too late.

Because I tried to heal
But merely broke apart, revealing

Sleepless dreams I tried to hide,
Someone else’s hope, so long ago denied.

Before giving into my unknowing
Of where, and if at all, I’ll stand,

I return your bright six-month-old smile
That has not yet known the cruelties of the world.

Faced with what I could have, ought to have been,
Our eyes lock and then

I let go, the girl who lived,
In relief, great tides, wash over me.

And so I shout a reckless challenge to the wind,
From a place that has no name, what might become of me I just don’t care,

I stare into the face of death until it blinks,
And I know now we do not die, there is nothing left to fear

For the sight child who never woke up,
I return for who I was, ever safely keep you near.

And now, once more in sunlight, though we did not travel far,
Dear child open your eyes, awaken to all you are.

Growing Up As a Blind Child

Through a one-way mirror, they eyed me,
Between us, their watchful eyes conceived the distance
And I began to lose definition.

I of the many translucent faces,
They sanded smooth my jagged edges
Painting them invisible with a missing shade of blue.

They glossed over my differences until I faded into the background
Molding my experiences so that they mapped onto their figures
Until I reflected their perspective thickly occluded.

They even tried to put an eraser
To that unusual glow that seemed to linger
Out of curiosity and the innocence of a child.

And my little ash child remembers their walls:
There were walls,
To keep her out, to contain her with,

But she saw through and far beyond them
How they were made for someone small, so she ignored and walked around them,
And the walls came tumbling down, and that is how they found them.

For a long time I searched for something to shelter me
Until with free hands I rebuilt my foundations,
And only then could I love what I made.

I’ve sought and found the knowledge
That they kept from me with stones.
I have survived their stares, I have stared back.

I have stood within the changing tides,
And learned the language of the wild song,
The one to which I’ve now come home, echoed in the blinking of an eye.

I rekindled trust as if I were tending the cauldron of Cerridwen
And in the river of memories I washed off the dust:
Why had I never seen myself before?

It was like repeating an unrecognizable name, until I realized it was mine.
It was like discovering I was a firefly,
When no one believed I could shine.

And now Across the bridge of overcoming,
I come bringing brokenness to light.
Bright beams alight along the road,

Pooling there like fallen stars, to guide my weary ash-child’s way.
Back through the darkness I reach out, the whole of her I carry in my arms,
And Whisper through her troubled dreams, I am here.

I who leapt among the flames, made it to the other side,
Tenderly I take hold of my ash child’s hand,
And into the blue, together we rise.