Bringing down the Neighborhood

            This weekend I read poems by Maxine Kumin and Robinson Jeffers.  They’re just excellent and inspiring, although I don’t want to reread my own writing too soon afterward or the inspiration goes, and self-loathing enters. Jeffers wrote about a fishing net, the purse-seine, I think it was.  He told of an experience on board a vessel and seeing a luminous shoal that probably contained many fish.  They sailed there and dropped the net, capturing many, many fish as they slowly drew the purse strings together. On board, the fish flopped and wiggled and moved from side to side in a futile effort to save themselves.  Later Jeffers described a mountaintop view overlooking a city, all luminous, reminiscent of the shoal.  And in the city the humans were the fishes, unable to survive on their own, unable to save themselves.

            I cannot imagine a life without extraordinary books like The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, without the poems of Kumin and Jeffers, without plays, and lectures, and music. They are essential to my survival, and so, therefore, is the city . 

            But I often think that I should turn my attention to other survival matters, such as finding food.  I’m not entertaining the idea of hunting, but I do think I could fish.  My quirky, wonderful ophthalmologist from childhood, who squared with me immediately about the prospective blindness when the superGods didn’t, always encouraged me to fish.  “It’s so much sound and touch,” he said. 

            But especially at this time of year, my thoughts turn to planting vegetables.

            Alas and however, I have a black thumb.  Every year at this time I bring down the property values in my neighborhood by the squalor that’s called my yard.  By summer my garden blooms; it’s not the object of pity.

            But now, in March and April, when the thousands of tulips I’ve planted in the fall fail to appear, I avoid the front door, hoping people won’t identify me with the property.  I imagine I hear people saying, “Oh my, that pathetic yard.  That poor blind woman doesn’t know how hideous it looks.”

            Trouble is, I have few hopes for my summer yard.  Day lilies and fall daisies have to be thinned.  I haven’t a clue how to do it.

            In an effort to snuff out the dandelions in the backyard last year, I put a nontoxic material on the so-called grass—mostly crab grass.  Then we had 40 days and nights of rain that flooded my plots, and all hostas died, all Shasta daisies and black-eyed Susans bit the dust. 

            And blindness and deafness aren’t great aids to my garden.  I grope my way around, trying to keep my bearings, weeding and putting down grass seed, inch by inch.  I tried to build a fragrant garden—but mint, lemon balm, and lavender overpower everything and get to looking very stemmy and wild.  I end up ripping them out, despite their fragrance.  But then I’m left with damp earth, a barren wasteland.

            And here I am writing about it, instead of putting on my mud-stained shorts and T and tackling it.  Ah, think I’d better go.

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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