His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” John 9:20, 21
To this spot I bring my grief.
Human grief is the obscenity to be hidden by the leaf.
– The Leaf, Robert Penn Warren
1. The First Time the Blind Man Speaks to the Pharisees, in Which He Recounts His Life
“whimper wakes the
water waves the
walls waver the
cave quakes a voice
my vernix-caked voice
lungs in uterine contraction separate
the whimper in my throat
from its echo
the reverb of the earth
from the winds humming in the heavens
the water in my lungs
from the water
with which I am washed.
The greater pain of gut
cracks my mouth
to gum the darkness smacking
swallows of colostrum.
In my ear
I hear the whimper that escapes from
and returns to me. Thus is
night and night
the first night.”
“‘A baby born to blindness,’ whisper voices.
‘Why would a baby be born this way?’
Then, as if catching the scent of corpse
on the air, the voices ask,
‘What came before the blindness?’ then
‘Before the birth?’
So voices conceive the roots
like cemetery sycamores refined on rot,
a coffin coughing up the word
in their mouths: ‘Sin.’
Sin, so they say. So say it is my sin
because it’s been in me since
my viscera squealed it.
it’s also the sin of the bodies who conceived me—
sin begat sin begat this infandous infant—
formed before my forming by an unformable word.
Naming it gives it teeth,
set on edge.
father’s father’s teeth,
that cannot chew
but, with final clamp,
can end my whimper.”
“I am blind:
should I also make this whimper flesh
and sound out its shivering edges
like the clatter of spring leaves
chattering in the trees
fall founts of dying leaves
crackling under feet
then winter wind wailing
snivels in which are my seed.
A dead tree is no relief,
and to hear the leaves is the pain to be.
To be is the pain to be named grief.
And grief is an obscenity
to be covered by a fig-leaf schenti.
If so, then should I refuse sin—
to not root it in my mouth
to foliate five
blind fig-leaf fingers let down
to hide my root.
The word sin dries
the live saliva
of my tongue to
a dry leaf in my mouth.
But the word I am—blind—
makes me dumb.
Should my tongue attempt,
a chirp, a mutter, a swallow,
I’d be satisfied on my contempt
for those sayers
and seers of sin.
Should my eyes see,
then I would choose to see unseen
and his forsaking of all men.
Thus beloved and friend
Thou hast cast far from me;
mine only acquaintance in
O, whimper, I weary.
My flesh is entropy:
to be is to be expanding indefinitely
into a conversation quit quietly,
refusing the voice of one who speaks . . .”
“. . . the voice of one who speaks
the unending underwater roar of waves. Or
spit dribbling from lips.
‘So speak,’ speaks he.
“Leaf-lift gurgle turgor of tongue;
grafted sapling grain, groaning against gravity,
fertilized-flowers filigree, roots
rhizome beneath streets tapping
Siloam pool which—
the throats of priests praying pious in the streets and
the cripples’ faces in reprieve from the heat and
Caesar’s mint on a wish’s ledger sheet and
the works of YHWH.
‘Say what you see,’ says he.”
“He gathered dust—
out of nothing—
and formed it with spit from his mouth.”
“What did I see?
Some version of Adam and Eve,
Plum as a pair of unplucked trees
Before the edge of teeth, chomping
And chewing pith into pulp;
Then deckled, drained, pinned in the wind
To drip dry the dappled papyrus;
Then scattered, nay listeth, in sheets,
Borne into leaves, citied in reams,
Bound to bear in their galleys
Works and words and the work of words,
To bear themselves up as words,
As words sent into the world.”
7. Apology for Joy (He Speaks to the Pharisees for the Second Time)
“I will be brief; words seem to add grief to grief.
Today, I’ll be weeping with those who weep,
My dim sight bleared in tears’ salty seep,
For sight is but one more sense to name our grief.
May I say the image I saw at Siloam
This morning, at dawn, even as you sent for me?
A spider descend like a leaf from a tree
To the watertop and float there like foam.
Then with a stroke—or eight (I didn’t count)
The spider spun down into the fount.
One might expect the wretch to drown,
But spoke, instead, a bubble around its head
And traversed there the invisible thread of current.”
Cover photo by Chris Yang.