Poets are much luckier than non-stanzaed folk who can't fill holes with words. This Sunday evening, 30 or so people gather in a small theater for "I Hate Poetry."
Since I am blind from birth, I am with two friends and their teenage daughter. All four of us have written and published poetry. Darrell and I will read tonight.
From the first cutter of syllables, I know that no one here hates poetry. Young voices line-break loss, ancestry and faith. There are some roses but more thorns and passions. How does that young woman already know, and have the courage to say, that "helplessness is so eager"?
I am surely the oldest person here, perhaps by decades. I listen and wish I'd started writing sooner, being thirty when my first byline appeared. I never had the courage to read for an audience until I was published. Do these young poets know how lucky they are to be standing with such craft?
Darrell narrates the setting since I can't see it—a stage, three steps, no railing, a table. After nearly 30 years reading in public, I still hate stages. Give me a library with a dozen circled seekers.
Can I still turn Braille pages fast enough to read five flawless minutes? I should be at least as good as anyone here. But many are talented and I am getting nervous.
Darrell bravely reads some new poems. The "too-big table" is a metaphor and there are reasons for sighted people to "vacuum in the dark." He is applauded enthusiastically. Heather, who I also know, loves the stage. Her every word is clear and confident. Two more poets, one who reads too fast to catch evocative language, and I am announced.
I unfold my white cane. Thirteen-year-old Eva guides me up the steps to a table where I place the notebook of Braille. Eva likes guiding and stages. She dashes off to the audience again.
I do not refold the cane, tucking it under my left arm. Refolding would take long seconds of silence. Silence can be misinterpreted. This must look easy.
My hands are cold. I ignore the microphone. I do this weird thing with my face to try and find it when my voice drifts too far off. I can't reach up, needing my hands to read. I've spent my entire reading life listening to professionals reading audio books for the blind. I know in my bones what a good reader sounds like.
I tell my audience that they feel far away from me up here. "The sun rises in B-major to sing one verse of My Way," I begin. Then I move to the sculptor, the astronomer, and the omen-ed red blanket. I conjure "the towering craft of after." The light whose "beam of patience never breaks past mourning and muddy Milky Way dreams" and the recliner's "magic carpet" that I'm told matches my living room curtains.
I imagine people are watching my hands if my words don't capture them. Can they see my hands? I imagine the stage is bright.
Just under five minutes. I've practiced with a talking timer. I never quite hear my delivery except for mistakes. But nothing very wrong happens. I close the notebook to applause.
I leave the stage relieved, holding Eva's arm, unfolded cane extended from my right hand. I can again listen to free verse questions, survivals, and victories.
The last poet bounds and battles. He makes me sure I didn't think enough about fashion. I trusted my 36-years of published words too much. He rants against "establishment authors." My beyond-midlife-crisis white walking shoes' truth lodges in my brain. What does "poet-like" look like?
Going home I query the 13-year-old. She knowingly says, "Some people close their eyes when you read. After all, you're not going to move around much." The idea surprises me.
How much longer will I be able to read in public? I need a strong voice, good finger dexterity, railings. Writing gives me a discipline and an identity beyond "blind." I like my words and my presence bouncing or sneaking into people's perceptions. And I could like an audience with eyes closed as I battle real and imagined helplessness to word-will a room to see past fashion and margin.