How Writing Poetry Helps in My Journey Toward Accepting Blindness


I have an eye condition called cone/rod dystrophy. In fact, so does half of my mom’s family. Ours is a particularly dominant strain, so whereas many with CRD retain a considerable level of vision, most of us are either already totally blind or well on our way.

The way I explain CRD to people is this: say you want to do a photo dump onto your laptop the old-fashioned way — you know, with a USB cable. Except in this case, your brain is the computer, your eyes are the camera, and your retinas are the USB cable. Now, let’s say your USB cable has been worse for wear and has frayed, causing limited access to your photos. In the case of cameras, oftentimes replacing the USB cable will easily get you back up and running. But every once in a while, an electrical shortage can cause loss or corruption of files, and the same is true, however metaphorically, of retinal deterioration. No USB cable, no picture. Simple as that.

But I’m a poet, so prefacing aside, I’d like to give you a glimpse into living blind… in verse. I have included three poems here that are rich in imagery, giving insight into my sensory experiences; but in addition, each takes a different angle on my journey toward accepting blindness. I’ll let you guess which is which. But I’ll give you a hint — check out the timeline. I can’t speak for those who’ve been blind since birth, or even on behalf of all blind people. But perhaps the reason why gradual or even sudden vision loss can be painful is because you never know when it will happen, and something you had is being taken away. It gets better, though, and you can learn to find beauty in the disjointed. Picasso was on to something.

Optical Illusions  — March 2011

I walk on an endless plane

where ground and sky are one.

People are characterized

by articles of clothing:

floating T-shirts and pairs of shorts

contrasting

with a non-descript, grayscale world.

Color does come to me sometimes,

like smatterings of paint—

a blue sky here, a golden sun there,

a green cloud of foliage—

especially red, like the red-shirted girl

from Schindler’s
List
.

The eye doctor waves hello,

but I see her white sleeve,

not her tawny hand.

I’ve been known to think a small tree

was a person.

I’ve flinched at unknown shadows,

even my own.

I turn like a sunflower

toward any emission of light.

I have personal firework shows each night

that bleed their way into my dreams.

Cones and rods fall away, Assailing me

with ghostly yellow and purple ripples.

Blood vessels burst, and my world bleeds red.

If I stare at something long enough, I can make it

disappear.

Sometimes, I can find it in me

to laugh at these optical illusions…

 

The Way I See It — July 2013

Beyond the train window,

vague impressions of buildings

fly past,

but they might as well be

mountains in Colorado.

I can see Christmas lights

best when they’re tangled;

they’re like fireflies,

glittering

in all their splendor.

A silhouette

is all I need to know

about a person;

I see no blemishes.

I’ve always wondered

why height, weight,

skin color,

or disfigurement

ever mattered to anyone.

We are

perfect

in our imperfections.

You see,

you may see the forest

for the trees,

but I see it

inches at a time,

and though I sometimes

mourn my loss of sight,

I find the world is

wondrous

the way I see it.

 

Earl Grey — September 2013

One sip of Earl Grey,

and the hot, earthy steam

on my face

suddenly turns

to a cold, salty mist.

I open my mind’s eye

and behold a memory from

some thirteen years ago,

of my ten-year-old self

leaning up against

the railing of a ferry,

staring in wonder

at the iron sea below,

teeming with foam

as it laps against the siding

and reflects

the overcast sky

until they meet and merge

at the horizon.

After trying in vain

to see my own reflection

on the water’s surface,

I feel disappointed,

but only momentarily so,

for I am just as soon distracted

by the beauty around me.

Hindsight whispers

that it matters not

what I see;

rather, it’s how I see things

that counts,

and these visions

are my reflection—

not of my face,

but of my soul.

I glance down

at my tiny hands

gripping the railing,

and once more

they are grown-up,

illuminated

by my open window,

and lifting

a well-worn mug

to my expectant lips

for another sip

of Earl Grey.

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