Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Desserts

Christmas Desserts

Since it’s Christmas, many family gatherings are tense enough already: screaming kids, undercooked turkeys, overcooked pies, Legos strewn about. Frazzled travelers and distant relatives we may see only once or twice a year sit in the shadow of celebrations meant to highlight love, redemption, and miracles. A mixture of so many personalities could easily fuel hysteria.  

If your family is like mine, smart Aunts nudge us away from political talk as soon as it steeps: “Would anybody like some iced tea?” Having a political commentator—someone who sees cultural significance in things as innocuous as choices of coffee brands, types of snacks offered, and cars in driveways—in the family makes this  especially difficult. I know that people tiptoe around me, and thank the newborn King that my family hasn’t disowned me yet. No doubt, I am loved more than I deserve. 

I’ve learned that, aside from a well-placed sarcastic quip here and there, I am much better off filling my mouth with cookies and ham than I am by filling my mouth with words. My five pounds of holiday weight are as much a testament to my restraint from ranting as it is a taste for my family’s culinary genius. 

In many ways, my family looks like America. We tick off many identity groups: multi-racial, LGBT, Trumpers, Obamaniacal  liberals, academics, business-people, millionaires, teachers, Catholics, agnostics, and Evangelicals. 

In the interest of completing the conversations that I will avoid today, the input I would offer to split the divide:

1. Overheard: Why does it matter where we recognize the capital of Israel to be?  
What I would have said:  That’s important to consider this time of year. For many in the world, a “two-state solution” would give Palestinians and Israelis a way to coexist. Both would claim Jerusalem as their capital. The city is a confluence of significances for myriad cultures and religions. To give it to one of those cultures is a symbolic rebuke of that multiculturalism. More importantly, it is a diplomatic slap in the face of the other cultures that claim it. Most importantly, it is a significant deviation from the existing peace process and the tense stability in the region. 

It, however, is a bold negotiating tactic that may bring parties back to the negotiating table. To blame new violence on this verges hysteria, and ignores the fact that the Trump decision was the promise made by several politicians on both sides of the aisle  over the past thirty years. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria. 

2. Overheard:  Lives are being destroyed by the #MeToo movement, in many cases without evidence, by accusations of things that “were ok” before. 
What I would have said:  If the groping, propositioning, or lewd talk (or demonstrably worse)by someone who exerted power over them had been directed at your wife, daughter, or mother, would it matter differently? Would you wait for evidence? Would you automatically believe your wife, daughter, or mother? That such actions were ever considered ok is appalling, but I get that the culture accepted and tacitly exerted it. As recently as the 1990s, we had a POTUS who did it without repercussions. We had a SCOTUS nominee, probably equally guilty, that still sits on he highest court in the land. 

In 2017, we are again gripped with a hysteria that undermines our most basic human interactions. We are actively redefining what is an appropriate way to speak to and act around neighbors, subordinates, and strangers. We are, probably unfairly, judging past actions by current, in-flux norms. We are injecting a new power gradient into the patriarchy and, yes, some men in power are being disempowered. How do we move forward? Let’s maintain and enforce the standard that we expect every man to treat every woman with the respect we demand for our wives, daughters, and mothers. Of course, this isn’t the full realization of what it should be. Every woman should be treated equally and with the respect we (men) expect to be treated with. Meanwhile, let’s agree to not feed the hysteria. 

3. Overheard: This new tax bill ignores me in favor of the rich. 
What I would have said: Let’s say that we all earn $50,000  and pay $10,000 in taxes. Our taxes will go down by, let’s say $1500 per year. Now let’s say one of our neighbors earns $500,000 and pay $120,000 in taxes. Let’s say their taxes will go down by $15,000 per year. They still pay about $100,000 more than we pay. Because of math, and not unfairness, they get a larger portion of the cut. And, likely, they get back a smaller percentage of that back in direct benefits. Keep on adding zeroes and we recognize that the very rich pay to keep this government afloat. Our individual portions are pittances, really.  

As for corporations who must compete for international customers and capital, they are suddenly in line with the tax rates of other nations. Business folks know that there is now incentive to repatriate money, jobs, and leadership. However, the chance that the results will “trickle-down” to raise wages, productivity, saving, and investment are up in the air. The hysteria of unfairness is nothing really more than recycled rhetoric. Truth is, there is empirical evidence that tax cuts coincide with economic growth. It’s tough to, in a dynamic economy, draw a straight line of causation. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy a little more jingle in our pockets and hold the government accountable for how they spend their portion of our earnings. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.

4. Overheard: Trump is the most divisive, hateful president ever. 
What I would have said: Since the beginning of the republic, just over half of the electorate has despised whoever is in the White House. Political intrigue, partisan bickering, dirty trickery, and calls for impeachment have swirled in Washington since, well, before Washington was even a place. Each generation has had its own means for magnifying the noise. Pamphleteers begat yellow journalists begat network newsmen begat 24-hour “breaking news.” 

We have had presidents who fit molds and we have had presidents that made them. Definitely, Trump is a disruptor and is a source of discomfort for many who see him as the anti-Obama. Obama fell right into line with how we, as Americans, expected a president to behave. Obama was moderate and willing to split the middle in some ways that frustrated those who expected him to be more disruptive. There is little equivocation in the actions of this president. Like a bull in a hallowed hall, Trump offends and disrupts and uses the insensitive language of a bygone era to call upon the “good old days” that he doesn’t recognize were the province of privilege. There are those who believe he is criminal and who question his motivations. He may be unpolished—to the point of rude and offensive—but I believe that he truly wants what he thinks is best for America. Despite warnings, he has not rounded up and ghettoized gays, hasn’t re-instituted Jim Crow, or rolled back freedoms of speech. Trump is in the lineage of Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt: egomaniacal, sometimes cruel, but transformative of the presidency and of America. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.  

5. Overheard: People forget that Jesus is what this season is all about. 
What I would have said:  For you and me and for our family, that is true. We are not the only family in America. In America, the holiday season is not all about Christmas. America is a diverse nation and even among Christians there are many “right” ways to celebrate Christmas. Other communities celebrate their cultures and their families and their own gods; how lucky are we to live in a nation where we are not all required to worship a god that we do not know as our own with traditions that do not fit into our heritage?! That said, we can worship together, side by side, and share our common rights to worship—or not worship—as we see fit and right. This time of year, regardless of whether we are Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist, we can take this time to reflect on the values that should link us all: respect for ourselves and our families, altruism toward those less fortunate, stewardship of our planet, and understanding of our place within a global village. Holidays should be a time to remember what makes us alike and to overlook those forces—entropic hysteria—which work to tear us apart. Let’s agree to not feed the hysteria.

Merry non-hysterical Christmas, y’all. Love you!

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Windows, Panes, and Portals

Windows, Panes, and Portals

Backdrops for occasions,            
Momentous and less-so, 
Life-affirmations and                    
Daily tedia complicated:              
Changing seasons:             

Wet Springs to high springs:                  
Seeds, births to fall leavings,      
Suns, clouds and moons’ phases:                     
Risings, settings, obscuring passings.  
Buds and blossoms.                      

These panes and portals:
New pains and new blessings,   
Befores before afters,                  
Glare-blinding, wind-cracked and clean-streaking,
Glass for reasons.

Out which we’d glance                
At Christmastime,              
Warmed at the hearth,                
Or Easter or just ‘cause,              
Into which we’d peer                   
On each arrival                                           
To see the season’s scents         
Before they were caught
On seasons’ breezes                     
From the kitchen’s heart.           

Out which we’d glance                
At blooming mounds,                   
Flowers planted                             
On our last visits;               
While washing dishes                   
After splendid feasts,                   
Or hand-snapping fresh beans, 
Or licking beaters                          
From cookie and cake,                             
Batters sweetly mixed.    

Out which we’d glance      
While local news               
Or Fins football--               
Or college football—                    
Chattered amongst cheers.        
We’d playfully dote                                  
With Grampa soft-snoring,                     
Full-belly hard-earned,                             
After long-days’ works,                
And a life well-worn.         

Out which he’d glance,                
To watch her tend            
Flower beds, and               
Us climb trees, or pick                 
Blackberries, or build                   
Palm-forts, while he rolled         
Tobacco in papers             
And listened to “The                    
Rest of the Story,”            
While box fans rattled.    

Out which she’d glance,              
To watch him chop                       
Hardwood and build                     
Fences and feeders                       
For her flowers and                      
Critters and robins;                       
Stole away for catnaps,               
Or to fix her hair,               
Or her gloss so she                       
Was always perfect.              

Glass, framed and righted:         
Letting light in and out.               
Muffling playful shouts:              
For spectacles, for dew-to-misting,
For being seen.                  

Perfect for greetings,                   
As if on movie screens.                
Perfect for long good-byes,                    
Sorrowful and longing and final
Soundless endings.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

Future Facts

Future Facts

Tearing the October page from the calendar—black, witch-hatted cats giving way to Pilgrim-cloaked tabbies high-fiving turkeys—I’m reminded that an image of three cats dressed as wise men in front of a red-stockinged hearth is just thirty days away. I know it’s coming, just like I know that hurricane watching will give way to sleeping with windows open; oak leaves will clog gutters and the culture war flashpoint, ‘happy holidays’ versus ‘Merry Christmas’ will clog checkout lines at Bath & Body.

Even without a scientific study to legitimize it, my intuition tells me that this will be the balsam-scented season of ‘future facts.’ These are not merely facts that have yet to be created, they already exist and merely require discovery. On the surface, this makes sense. The sun was the center of our solar system before that fact was discovered. Gravity, it seems, held people from floating away from the Earth long before it was named. I know that Christmas-kitty December is coming before I even turn the page on the calendar.

Science has given us a methodology for the discovery of facts: observe, hypothesize, test, measure, conclude. Folks engaged in true science argue that this is a thoroughly iterative task: that the work of science is most valuable when we conclude that the hypotheses based upon our casual observations are proved false. A bias toward confirmation has confused many in the lay-community to think that science only works when our hypotheses are affirmed. Contrarily, in the academic world, once an experiment has confirmed a presupposition, this occurrence is treated with such circumspection that scientists insist on its repeatability as affirmation.

Innocent until proven guilty, common law asserts. The court of public opinion, like bastardized science, is not beholden to such standards.

Theorists have shown empirically that the very act of observation can affect results. In the models upon which investigative experiments are built, a bias toward a conclusion affirms the observation.

The media and politicians, and even some politicized scientists-turned-activists have become peddlers of these future facts. They speak the language of science, but have conflated hypothesis with prediction. They’re so invested in driving narrative—narrative, nowhere in the scientific method—that conclusions have overpowered the gathering of data. The mere act of investigation stands as near-equivalence to proof. Witness that, according to a new WaPo-ABC poll, forty nine percent of Americans think Trump committed a crime. Without a shred of non-circumstantial evidence, they tell us to wait for future facts.

Caught up in Hallow’s Eve’s witch-hunting, they will find something. Witch hunts prove themselves. Judge Hathorne (from The Crucible), Ken Starr, and Former-Director Mueller, once set loose upon their investigations, root out lies, deceit, and criminality. Perhaps those lies, deceit and criminality—as in the case of the Manafort indictments—are merely a retread of five year-old facts uncovered and equally unrelated. Perhaps, as in the case of Papadpoulos, an overwhelmed novice does his best to cover up otherwise innocuous, though ridiculously suspect, activities.

Future facts are not limited to Trump’s (or the Trump Campaign’s or people who once sent an email to Trump’s campaign) collusion with Russia. Nor are they, as fact-futurists from the Republican Party are working to predict, limited to conspiracies that merely await disclosure of their own witch hunts like UraniumOne and golden-showered dossiers.

Then there are future facts that intersect with the man-made causality of climate change, carbon emissions, and the Right’s skepticism toward the self-affirming models that link them. Another favorite flashpoint in the war over scientific Methodism—an orthodoxy that approaches religiosity—occurs where tax cuts and economic growth converge.

As to questions thoroughly unknowable, where thirty and forty year old, long-suppressed and unverifiable memories that exist in the recesses of victims’ and perpetrators’ memories, the facts may never escape he-said-she-said-ism to ever become anything other than perpetually future.

Ultimately, those witches will sink or float—or swing. Future facts will either find the cathartic light of day or will drown in the cauldrons of their own making. The lines between fake news, alternative facts, and future facts are as thin as the veils of hypocrisy and partisan posturing that alternately demand and dismiss them to their own logical ends.

We may find that Trump is guilty of the collusion that set this witch hunt in motion. For some, this would be a political—if not actual—coup. For some, it will be a self-fulfilling prophesy. At the end of this experiment in faux-science, our republic is undermined, our institutions are hollowed, our standing in the world becomes a laughing-stock, and the infidelities of our Proctors replace the civic good toward which even the most imperfect among us can aspire.

I, like you, am ready to tear another page off of the calendar. Sometimes we just need kitten-pics to right the wrongs of time, future facts notwithstanding.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

This First Jubilee

This First Jubilee

Closing out this first Sabbath year,
The first seventh year,
Our year of rest,
When we left our broad fields fallow.
I am renewed.
With you, I am new.

We grew our life so strong so fast
Even un-re-sown,
Culled without rest:
First jubilee, yeastless leavens,
Each day rising.
With you, I am new.

Magic beans and tall winter wheat,
Gardened side by side,
In all seasons,
Un-toiled ground uncultivated,
Weeds yield bounties.
With you, I am new.

With rocks and clay and sandy soils,
I’ve disappointed,
Times uncounted,
Overwatered and under-shone,
Tracked mud on thatch.
With you, I am new.

Grew, grow, we’ve grown, and growing still,
You’ve made me better,
You’ve inspired me,
Forgiven and fertilized me,
My deep wellspring,
With you, I am new.

Rich harvests and bountiful feasts,
Hue-rustled autumns,
And new-seed springs,
Steamy summers and cooled winters,
With moons and tides,
With you, I am new.

Seven thorough twelve-months counted,
Future unfinished,
Whole love, complete;
Completer with each tomorrow,
Our jubilee:

With you, I am new. 

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Friday, September 29, 2017



Far off, drums hum to a cadence,
A droning warning of danger:
A call to synchronicity:
Beats to temper the erratic 
Reactions to fear.
Tribes unite in purpose:
Beats bringing hearts to a
Common pulse. 

Far off, boots pound to a rhythm,
Straightaway into danger,
A call to heroic sacrifice:
Feet to fellows fallen:
Marches to monuments
Risen in bravery:
Beats to mere taps of a
Common pulse. 

Far off, bombs burst, rockets glare,
Remembrances of danger,
Delivering destruction,
Pocking scorched bunkers,
Mortars and bullets’ beats
Upon grounds and chests
Fallen, dust to dusted:
Common Pulse. 

Nearer, hearts' beats:
Signaling fetal life, murmuring—
   Fully dependent. 
Signaling maternity, embracing—
   Suckled consonance.
Signaling filial pride, protecting—
   Doting, pushing.
Signaling fraternity, team-building—
And first loves,
And disappointments,
And adventures,
And poetry and song,
And Peace and War:

Nearer still, our hearts beat on:
Thubbadubba, our own.
Thrumming, swelling, ours together:
Fighting, excelling, villaging.
Thubbadubba, strong beats our own,
Roaring: stronger beats together.
Melodic strum, lyric thunder:
Common pulse. 

Friday, September 1, 2017



When we pray, we call upon an almighty God,
Call on Him: Yahweh and Jesus,
With reverence and awe,
From our brave hearts.

When we pray, we call upon empowered prophets,
Call to them: Rasul Allah and Buddha,
With knowledge and hope,
From our centers.

Popes and Patriarchs,
Mothers and Marias.
  Goddesses and gods:

When we pray, we call upon tenant powers,
Call on her: Nature and Earth,
With respect and bounty,
From our bodies.

In church or square,
In home or
  In isolation:
Alphas to Omegas.

When we pray, we call upon ideas,
Call to them: Science and Alien,
With wonder and logic,
From our deep thoughts.

When we pray, we call upon our selves,
  In the humility of our smallness,
  In the faith of the vastest unknown,
  In the sublimity of our surroundings,
  In concert with our neighbors,
     To their gods,
     To their prophets,
     To their powers,
     To their ideas,
And their neighbors.

When we pray, we call upon prayers,
Call upon: eaches’ and others’,
With bended knees, prostrate,
From our every’s things.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Slippery Slopes

Slippery Slopes

In the year of ratification--the first slip--
Toward more perfect union:
1789: “We’ll count them as three-fifths,
Human, just so long as we can keep them:
Trade them, own them.”

Just don’t let them be whole people.

Ushering in an era of good feelings--slip two--
Structured, equivocal, stalemated:
1820: “Maine and Missouri may enter,
Compromised, we’ll keep ours, you keep yours:
Protect and harbor them.”

Just don’t let them be free people.

Proclaimed emancipated, free--slip three--
Black, Blue bruised; grey, bloodied:
1863: “Slaves are free from confederates’
Shackles, to wander the wilderness, still second-
Classed, sub-citizens.”

Just don’t let them be equal people.

Reconstructed nation, union--slip knot--
Strange fruits dangle,
Jim Crow’s century of
Intimidation paved with
Bags of carpet:
Suppression, exploitation,
Un-shared cropping, serfdom,
Infrastructured injustices,
Memorialized massacre,
Motives peculiar still,
Whistle walking culture

Just don’t let them feel safe in our midst.

Separated and supposedly equal--slick-slipped--
Boxcars and balconies and schoolyards:
1896: “Segregate for their own simple sakes’,
Let them build our cities, fight our enemies:
We’ll hollow out, ghettoize.”

Just don’t let them taste liberty amongst us.

Barrier-break, integrate, educate--sixth slip--
Universities, city squares, classrooms:
1954: “We’ll abandon our buses and chalkboards
To them, we’ll incite them and watch
Them burn from our burbs.”

Just don’t let them rise up a King to martyr.

Dreaming in resistant peace,--slip seven--
Technicolor spirituals exalt:
1968: “We will break civility’s heart, quiet
The hymns, reassert our mastery of
Others’ pieces, peace-purses.”

Just don’t let them reside in our Whitest House.

Post-race mirage, well-heeled half-sy--slip eight--
Doomed to succeed, to spite:
2008: “America held hostage by the future,
By the fierce urgency of now,
Remind them who they are, who they aren’t.”

Just don’t let them slip into our everyday.

We see the slope, and we slip a little farther,
A little nearer the past, begging for healing
From three-fifths wounds still infected,
From brothers and sisters circumspect:
A little nearer that day, strong and whole
From mounts and cliffs made level:
From the rash where slopes become:
Ninth-slip-teeming, fertile meadows.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

All That Freedom, And a Bag of Chips (eh?)

All That Freedom, And a Bag of Chips (eh?)

“We don’t need two bags of chips,” I scowled, “but, I reckon they’ll keep.” Who was I to turn down a Publix BOGO sack of Ruffle’s. I expected full well that they’d be devoured in time for the next week’s grocery trip; all we had to do was pay full price for the first bag. We started with the All-American Classics then scoured the shelf for the gimmicky “get-one.” Four curious eyes zeroed in on the maple leaf-decorated ‘All-Dressed’ flavor. Since our autumn visit to Toronto, we were open to things that our northern-nation neighbors had to offer. We joked, right there in the snack aisle, about poutines-as-fake-nachos. We laughed about how a kilometer was only two-thirds of a mile and how a loonie was only three-fourths of a dollar. Even their easy-on-the-eyes leader is a scaled-down version of our own odd, party-sized POTUS.  

“Canada’s #1 Flavor,” proclaimed the bag. Even if only half as good as ‘Cheddar and Sour Cream’ then we’d find value. We bit. 

Anybody who’s taken an Intro Economics class remembers learning that, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” In mine, we discussed “free lunch” programs that were meant to ensure that every student had equal access to the sustenance needed to keep young, hungry minds learning. 

But, the cafeteria cooks earn salaries. 
But, the school food buyer pays suppliers. 
But, electric bills and administrators are covered. 

While that “free” meal may not require a down-on-their-luck family to reallocate their shorted valuable resources, the cost side of the societal profit and loss statement is not empty. Of course, as a village, my astute professor reminded us, we also understand that we all gain by feeding education. Economists quantify meal assistance benefits by cause-and-effecting lower incarceration rates, higher lifetime earnings, and more responsive citizenship. 

We also learned, perhaps in Econ II,  that there are certain resources—goods and services—which, in their creation, cannot be efficiently rationed. Public goods, such as national defense and interstate  highway systems are immediately available to all citizens because the infrastructure necessary to enforce payment for the benefits-of-use outstrip the revenue they’d generate. No rational person pays, without gimmicks or coercion, for something they can get for free. Society cannot, and shouldn’t want to, prevent a non-paying neighbor from reaping the benefits of protection by the strongest military in the world or from driving on I-75 from Detroit to Tampa. 

We won’t address deficits here. 

To the extent that the pay-per-use barriers—think Lexus lanes, college tuition, and insurance premiums—can be reduced and the incidence of enforcement can be spread more widely, certain goods and services can take on the deceptive appearance of public goods. Our Canadian neighbors have bought into a paradigm in which, through the dilution of incidence across the entire populace—taxes—an individual’s costs for certain valuable goods approach zero. To many who can take advantage of these private-turned-public resources, they seem free: without sacrifice or value. 

Economists remind us that such freedom is a myth that leads consumers to misappropriate resources away from valuable providers of the goods and services which should have the most value. Witness the effect that “free” education has had on teacher salaries in America and what “free” healthcare has done to the earnings of doctors in Canada. Both systems—driven by the conversion of private services into public goods—undervalue the most consequential professions in the world: teachers and doctors directly affect our quality and quantity of life.

And so, with their dreamy, silver-spooned head-of-state and their systemic redistribution of resources from the wealthiest to the less wealthy, our Canadian neighbors upend not only the market-valuation of life-quality, but also slow the capitalization of innovations that might support their long-term sustainability. And all of this would be reasonable lest we oscillate our understanding of freedom from economic terms to the historical-poetic.

Freedom is also liberty; liberty isn’t free. 

Like any other public good, we cannot efficiently limit freedom’s consumption. Our enemies, both within American borders and without, have reminded us that freedom is the ultimate public good. We enshrined freedoms in our Constitution so as to remind us, with every human interaction, that freedom is our most valued national product. America’s history is one of fighting for freedom, for valuing the cost of freedom in terms of, not merely dollars, human souls. In 1867, Canada gained its partial independence from a monarchy that it still serenades. By 1867, America had twice fought in bloody and protracted wars for independence against a tyrannical Britain and reified freedom in a Civil War that preserved the union and ended slavery.

In 1867, America tasted Whitman’s, “Freedom - to walk free and own no superior.” Freedom, in America, is valued—not because the incidence of sacrifice was small—because it cost so much. 

America may not have perfected freedoms all at once, but has never misunderstood their eminent pricelessness. Americans have coveted and protected freedom, sometimes to the deplorable exclusion of our fellow citizens. The denial of freedom to other Americans over time, while gut-wrenching to own, highlights the extreme value that Americans have placed on freedom. We do not take the extension of liberties lightly. 

As we continue to expand freedoms and rights, we do so with organic deliberation, calling upon the forces of culture to right the systemic failings to which a prudent society has reacted sometimes excruciatingly slowly. Perhaps, in 2017, freedom means more than simply liberty from a tyrant king or plantation owner. Perhaps, in 2017, it means widening the safety net, reducing barriers to health and education. Perhaps, in 2017, freedom means extending the right to love and marry and choose one’s own gender-identity. New rights alongside historical freedoms are fought for and earned and protected each day anew. In America, freedom is right-valued.

Third-full bag of stale, bland potato chips: free, to anybody who wants them. 

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Staring Into The Sun

Staring Into The Sun

            The leash pulls taut, slacks, then pulls taut again as my fawn pug Whitney explores the world at ankle level. Though she spends a lot of her time in my arms, carried in an embrace resembling a full-frontal papoose—rows of doggie nipples leading the way—she is in her world at the end of this retracting leash. She masters her world, zooming from bush to tree, sniffing and stopping—prancing. We round the lake at the time before dusk, about thirty-eight minutes before the sun finally sets, when the sky is still bluish, but hinting at the summer pink it likes to show off this time of year. Joggers and walkers and poets and readers pass at varying speeds; other dogs pant hello.
With one good eye—she was born with a cataract that has left her half blind—she leads me, then follows, then walks in my shadow. She doesn’t know she’s half blind; we’ve never told her and we whisper about it in her presence when friends ask about the cloudy haze that so obviously obscures her sight. She doesn’t need to know. She cannot know.
            At ankle level, with a flat nose and a long tongue, half-sight is plenty good. With four paws touching the firmament, she can feel at least twice as much as I do—even when I’m barefoot. She hears songs of creatures that I’ve never seen, she hears songs that I’ve never heard. She doesn’t need to know she can’t see in three dimensions. She tastes and smells and hears and feels her world. If she could, she would pity me. She cannot.
            Conventional wisdom, the wisdom of the third-grade teacher—conventions epitomized—foretells blindness following sun staring. The one or two times in a lifetime when one personally witnesses—actively views— a solar eclipse presents increased occasion for this cause and effect to occur. For some reason, and no one was ever able to satisfactorily explain why, it is far worse to stare at a sun obscured by the moon than it is to stare at a whole sun: conventional wisdom.
“How do we know it’s actually happening,” I would ask with a third-grader’s innocence, “if we can’t see it?” Certainly, there are those who have seen this happen, otherwise how would we know about it? Always afraid that it would be the last thing I would see, I have blindly followed the convention. I intend to see the next one, if it is the last thing I see.
            Given that the other activities that I’ve taken pleasure in and mastered since I was told that they would certainly cause blindness have not done so, my trust for the conventional wisdom—as told me by Ms. Mary T. Pengov (my third-grade teacher), my grandmother, and various other  women—regarding the causes of blindness has lost its preventive power. That women seem to be the noted authorities and purveyors of conventional wisdom on blindness and its causes is probably merely coincidence. Despite the probability of coincidence, part of me wants to believe that women have some vested interest in the mythmaking surrounding male blindness. The other part of me believes that, without a glimmer of a doubt, women—such as third-grade teachers, grandmothers, and aunts—maintain their tenuous control over the male gender through such myths. The conventions and myths perpetuated by generations of women seem to maintain this control at least as effectively as breasts and thighs: Southern fried chicken, myths of Homeric quality—an odyssey of blindness.
            As Whitney encounters and pulls toward some congregated ducks, I decide to stare at the sun. This is a beginner’s exercise, I posit, because it is a setting sun and not a high-in-the-sky two o’clock sun. Nonetheless, I stare. Whitney wraps her leash around my ankles as I stand in defiance of conventional wisdom, in defiance of the power of battered and deep-fat-fried drums and wings. Dancing spots of light form around the sun’s corona. The purpling sky is flecked with these dots errata. Cooling me from over the lake, a breeze picks up my scorching eyelashes and tickles my face. I look away to the trees that canopy the path around me. The light spots continue to dance and then they are gone. Whitney is now lying at my feet, her tail curled, her tongue tasting the air around her. The ducks are back in the water. I am not blind.
            That I can still see is both joy and disappointment. I was not ready to feel my way home, or to trust Whitney, whose frighteningly zig-zagged trail may have just as easily taken me to a duck’s nest as my own. I was not, though I took the calculated chance, ready to give myself over to blindness. I was not ready to be blind, or even half-blind. I was disappointed in only the way disappointment can be mixed with relief in knowing that the cause of disappointment would have ultimately been unwished for in its immediate aftermath.
            My first relationship with blindness took the shape of television’s Little House on the Prairie. Over the course of a couple episodes, Laura’s big sister lost her sight. Mary’s new handicap was never treated as such. She continued to teach and to love her family, and later fell in love with a blind man who never knew just how beautiful she was. Mary Ingalls grew from a blind girl into a blind woman and became a blind wife and a blind mother and eventually blind was just another attribute like two-legged, bonnet-wearing, or blue-eyed. There was something about her new countenance. It was more than essential womanness; she appeared to experience feelings and say words, to be aware of sounds and sense emotion with an inscrutable intensity. Even in reruns and in syndication, Mary Ingalls emoted in a way that I coveted.
            Blindness meant more than a new way of seeing; it meant a whole different way of sharing. Blindness was affective. I grasped my grandmother’s hand as she walked down the stairs from her bedroom to the living room. She was breaking in yet another set of glasses. The prescriptions, she explained, had gotten stronger and stronger over the years. Glasses were her pharmakon: each stronger prescription further weakened the muscles in her eyes—like going to the auto mechanic for a fourteen-hundred-thirty-seven-dollar oil change. She could no longer see well enough to drive. Walking down those treacherous steps, I could feel my grandmother, whose hand I held for support only, squeezing with different levels of pressure. Without saying a word, she sped me up and slowed me down tenderly with silent hands. She emoted differently. “Never look straight into the sun,” she’d say intently at the bottom of the stairs, a stream of non sequiturs following closely as her crooked finger pointed out the bay window.
            One year for Christmas, I received a telescope. “Look into the night sky,” the instructions read. Mrs. Pengov explained that the stars were like suns for other worlds. They were not actually smaller than the sun or the moon, only farther away: more ungraspable. Dotted upon the black canvas of night, cradled by a moon’s sliver, other worlds and galaxies invaded my eyes; other worlds and galaxies consumed my mind. My grandmother’s explanation of the stars was far more spiritual: “They are all of the people who have died and gone to Heaven.” Where science met spirit, my eyes, my mind, and my soul wandered. Why, if I gaze upon our sun, will it make me blind? Why, if I gaze upon the face of God will it make me blind? What of others’ suns? What of others’ gods? Night after night, I gazed upon those other faces and souls; I brought those far-off suns closer. They were all yet ungraspable. The spots I saw were there and I could see them without fear of blindness and yet I yearned for some plenary tangibility, some kind of physical consequence to prove my galactic study.
            The image of a telescope is relayed upside-down and flipped by a mirror just before it meets the eye. While the image, then, is brought closer, the translations of that image are richly intermediated and ultimately deceptive. Deceptive, of course, only if the intermediation happens transparently, unrecognized, which—to the eye of a third grader—is certainly the case. Doubtless, I was fooled. It is improbable that I ever saw through that telescope what I thought I saw. Isn’t that blindness: not seeing?
            Annie Dillard wrote an essay about "Seeing." In addition to the personal anecdotes that she relayed regarding the process of seeing, she told of a study that she’d read in which formerly blind people—people who had never seen—were, through the miracle of some scientific-medical procedure, given their sight. The study was absorbing because of the troubles that these newly sighted humans encountered. They could not discern borders between objects. Because these individuals had not been trained in the skill of seeing, they had never learned how to perceive colors, shadows, or depth. The language and signification implicit in the process of seeing had gone unrealized. Though the world for these people had not changed, their ability to perceive it certainly had. As if wandering up the stairs of the tower of Babel, most of these failed seers revert back to their other senses rather than undertake the cognition of a new sensibility. “Going blind,” we might infer, may not be very different from “going sighted.” The underlying problem, it seems, is that of translation: from one set of signs and symbols, in their apprehension, to another.
My eighty year-old grandfather joked last Thanksgiving, after my grandmother underwent just such an operation, that, “Cataract removal surgery is responsible for eighty percent of divorces over the age of sixty.” My grandfather doesn’t tell jokes often. My grandmother instinctively rolls her—still myopic—newly cloudless eyes. My grandfather’s deep and congested voice is punctuated by loud and gargling coughs well-timed to join our respectful chuckles. What my grandparents see in each other has little to do with what their eyes relay as pictures of each other. What my grandparents see in each other are the beauties of their respective pasts. What they see in each other is jointly lived sacrifice. What they see in each other is the need for the familiar sounds, smells, and routines that they have intertwined together in this—the overlapping dusks of their lives. My grandparents are the twenty percent.
Watching their interplay, after years together, is a study in the senses. My grandparents' lives are not haphazardly intertwined. They not only rely on each other for companionship, but they are each other’s eyes and ears. They are each other’s tastes and scents. They are touch. As younger couples can, early in a relationship, complete each other’s verbalizations, my grandparents share their senses knowing what the other is seeing and apprehending independent of the seemingly separate bodies they inhabit. They are society in microcosm. They see and are seen; simultaneously subject and object. They have melded into a body held in a house that my grandfather built with his own hands and that my grandmother has kept alive through her force of will.
In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault develops a theory of the growth of civilization which is predicated upon seeing. The panopticon, as Foucault describes it, is a model in which the strictures of a society's norms and relationships are upheld through the power derived by surveillance. With one eye, a million eyes focus. The eyes both control and liberate. With a million eyes, the one eye focuses. The eyes of civilization allow my grandparents to see each other and to see the world around them in the same way. They share their senses and their souls. With their own eyes they see deeper into themselves in this political and sentimental relationship.
How can this collective eye be reconciled, then, with the freedoms and liberation of the personal eye? Indeed the most base instinct of all animals, humans included, is the survival of the self, not the herd. The most basic tenet of consciousness is the recognition of the I. When a child first sees himself in a mirror and develops a recognition that that creature at which he is staring is not his mother or father, that the being into whose own eyes he is looking has gone from other to self, that is when the I and the eye merge. That humans consciously interact with themselves through a lens of otherness is what separates them from the other animals whose selfishness is instinctive.
When she was a puppy, Whitney saw—in the reflection of a full-length sliding-glass door—herself. She barked and howled and reached out to touch it with her little black-socked puppy paw. She studied the image and finally realized that the creature on the other side of that glass was untenable and lost interest. She and her reflection parted and it is likely that she quickly forgot about that other scentless dog. The same incident has played out a few times since then—a scene in which she spasmodically greets her reflection with the same tenacity with which she greets other four-legged creatures. She did not know that she was barking at herself. It is likely that she does not know that she, too, is an I to herself. Her world—seen hazily through those cataract-covered lenses—is defined by all of the things that are around her: her bed and her daddies, the couch and the windows. She does not place herself in a context of what she sees, she merely exists within a space contented by food and kisses and belly rubs. Certainly, and this is well studied and documented, she senses smells and tastes differently and more richly than her daddies do; there are sounds that we will never hear with her. She will never act in a conscious and self-liberated way toward these sensory intrusions; the best she will ever muster is the ability to react to a series of naturally recurring stimuli.
Gabe sees sounds. He is a twenty-two-year-old DJ friend who has come of age in the digital world. He is a synesthete. He likes to be called a “producer” nowadays, which means he creates mixes of existing songs that are to be played by DJs. This is not dissimilar to the difference between a theatrical producer and director: scene setter versus front lines: forest and trees. Recently, a “production” of his was featured on a Britney Spears album.
 When I was earning B minuses in penmanship—words as empty vessels—in first grade, Gabe was glinting his father's eyes. He mastered a keyboard before he could "write." His and my interactions with words markedly differ. Our perceptions diverge; our abilities to assimilate data into personal contexts deviate in drastic ways.
This digital world has allowed—perhaps precipitated—the convolution of human senses. The ability for anyone anywhere to access information, to convert and appropriate that information—more generically, data—into different forms, and then to redund that data into codes for others to appropriate and convert is having a physical effect on the human body. No longer can humans be contented to recognize the I: meld the sense of self through the searing realization of mirror imagery. Once the eyes have done their work to dislocate and decenter a human from his surroundings, the conscious being looks for other uses for the I. I asked Gabe to describe what he sees when he hears certain sounds, mostly dealing with music. He sees the causes of sounds, the representations of a tire screeching or a horn exclaiming. He sees these causes in colors and lines and pulsating orbs. These symbols constitute another way of hearing and of seeing that the new language and discourse of digitization makes possible.
How, though, is Gabe's ability to see sound any different from the phenomena captured by Picasso in his early Cubist renderings? The vision of things as they appear to one set of eyes is not always the same for all eyes. While we can never know if Picasso's work was an experiment in possibility and simultaneity or an accurate rendering of what he saw through his own eyes, we can marvel at the reality that we can see it and wonder. Were the Damoiselles d' Avignon occurring to Picasso through an abstract context in which they were merely seen, or were they converted through some synaptic miracle in Picasso's mind that made them a part of him? How did Picasso see? What did he see? Did he see sounds—are those his reds and blues? Are those his colors and triangles and distorted symmetries? Picasso and Gabe have different eyes. Perhaps, on second sight, they have the same eyes.
So, what of this panopticon? Surveillance is a unitary process meant to weed out these errant eyes. In the digital age, then, when the eyes can hear, the panopticon will be turned upon itself and re-defined. The interface becomes the unifying feature of the discipline model: the shared eyes of my grandparents, consciously eschewed in favor of the separate eyes of Picasso and Gabe; they meld along the lines of individuality. The limits of our bodies are no longer defined by those things that we see as separate from ourselves. The shadows and limits of the language of sight begin to seek out the unity that is at once convoluted. We, concurrently, see ourselves as distinct from a politick that we have created and yearn for the connections from which to escape.
This paradox of sight takes shape—is made real—through the interface of the computer. Watching fingers dance upon a keyboard in the periphery of the data that appears on a screen is not so different from a visit to New York City or perhaps Las Vegas. What we see is intimately intertwined with what we feel and hear and smell.
Feel, here, in the symptomatic sense: like romance. We like the feeling of romance. Romance intoxicates: it surpasses the senses in such a way that the senses are instantly cognized by the body and translated into immediacy. A tangential narrative conducted in the moment can be described only in terms of senses. When a new set of symbols that link the increasingly natural senses of taste and sight and orality, when we can describe a bright sound or a garnet feeling, we are given the tools to expand consciousness nearly exponentially. With a new discourse comes the liberation that Picasso anticipated. The power of the interface is transforming the eyes and the skill of seeing. New York City and Las Vegas are early incarnations of this transformation of the human body. The panopticon turns upon itself and liberates the senses. Indeed, the cities take on their own souls with their own senses and their own discourses and languages. They are, themselves, seers and seen. My grandmother never warned me not to stare into the neon lights. I was never given the opportunity to hear the neon lights until I visited the City. Other sins and blindness-causing activities certainly abound unseen.
Intimately linked with the progression of civilization has been the progression of language systems from the oral to the written. Walter J. Ong, in Orality and Literacy, posits that, "Because it moves speech from the oral-aural to a new sensory world, that of vision, it transforms speech and thought as well." The current movement is transforming all of the senses, indeed it is breathing life into our context: our cities and our space.
The eyes of a city are myriad. They are connected and disconnected. They are individual and they are one. The eyes gaze upon their objects and beg to be seen. Blue eyes and brown eyes and green eyes, the hazel eye, and the occasional gray eye surrounded by eye shadows and lashes seeking themselves in shiny storefronts and mirrored glasses: in exchange for blindness.
The nature of blindness, like sight itself, has been transformed. Again, the interface, even in the absence of its visibility, has changed the songs of Homer into the precise and gripping words of Borges. In a pre-literate age, the exactness of historical fact played a secondary role to the melodic ebb and flow of epic. When finally captured by the written word, the Homeric tale was stultified by linear narrative force. In a postmodern—ambitiously post-literate—sense, Borges has undertaken the translation of the written word into that same melody. Surrounded by a million books in the Argentine National Library, the blind seer worked to manipulate the signs and symbols of a written language that was rapidly escaping him. Homer, surrounded by an aurality, limited by the cluttered memories of Heroic Man battling fallible gods, feeling his way from one performance to the next, spoke to his world from behind a veil of limitation. He could not see the grimaces of his audience, the pained pity with which they greeted his handicap. He was not surrounded by a library of ideas, including his own, which were frozen by the eyes which he could not see freezing him. For Homer, there was but one language. For Borges, that same language was one of many. The nature of not seeing the word has changed along with the word and the depth of that word's meaning. Indeed, the whole of human knowledge that evaded Homer's eye was a much smaller set of data than that which Borges missed.
I think I know: blindness is a sense as much as sight. The I comes from a collective distance from the self; from an individualized proximity to the politick. If we are liberated from the eye, we can join this paradox. We may join in this consciously and with full knowledge of our own internalized surveillance. Hence, I stare at the sun and seek out the eclipse. I shall refuse the device that Mrs. Pengov insisted we build, a device that provides an evidentiary narrative of the moon's passage before the Sun. Gabe will hear this passage, and evidence: a factual post representation, uncluttered by the millennia of linear training. Picasso saw this eclipse; he may have caused it. I shall covet Mary Ingalls’ affective blindness to it. Homer may have named it and my grandparents shall never know it—they will not know it together. Whitney will either eat or sleep or play through it and I:

I will stare into the sun with unabashed and sinful pride. I will consciously practice my blindness with the same efficacy as I instinctively practice my sight. I will sing the lyrics that I smell and taste. I will taste the words. I will stare into the sun as though it were a mirror and as though it were a library and wait patiently for the liberating darkness for which I'm sure I will ultimately un-wish.

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