Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sonnet finito--on blindness

Milton, sure, but I was just reading another writer's blog asking what book one would read if one were going blind. Anna Karenina's the obvious choice; it's been sliding around on the back seat floor of my car for two months, much the same way that Moby Dick made my New Year's resolution list seven years in a row. (No, I never did.)

Blindness, see, has long been a subject of fascination--not total blindness but encroaching. For others, too; James Thurber and Garrison Keillor both wrote about the wondrous things you see when you're half blind. For me, who first got the 70's kind of wire-rimmed glasses at 12, it was all about leaves. Consequently, JRR Tolkien's story of a being who spent his entire life painting one leaf reverberated in a burst of resplendent light all through my rods and cones. This first awareness led me to the following:

Ansel Adams: the way light streams through the leaves of the redwoods
Adrien Coortje: luminescence of gooseberries and asparagus
Edward Hopper: beach sun streaming into an empty white room opening onto the shore
Annie Dillard: examining a mantis sack attached to a twig in the kernel of snowy winter

These artists knew the joy of observation.

All close up textures mesmerize me into a myopic trance. Far off, or approaching swiftly in the car, I mistake objects for others. A trash bag by the curb once was a small bear, and the other day on Shiloh Road, I thought I saw Darth Vader standing sentinel halfway up a steep hill until I realized he was a black metal mailbox. Do things take their shape only when we ascribe forms to them? Being legally blind in one eye makes me think it is entirely possible that the world is a cyclonic mass of swirling particles that become what they are only when we decide.

A year and a half ago, out running, I tripped over some gravel, a shoelace , I don't know what, and fell, concussing myself and smashing the left side of my face, the one with the legally blind eye. Since then, I went to my eye doctor for contacts once and he clucked and twitted over my dramatically decreased vision, proposing glaucoma when I am fairly sure it is nerve damage from the fall. I do know I can only effectively see out of one eye now.

So, to answer your question, reading blogger, I will take Anna Karenina over to Jimmy Jack's Gourmet Sandwich Shop in Athens, and order a turkey on whole wheat with avocado and sprouts to sustain me as I read But first I must take the photo I've been longing to, of the way the sun hits the white tiles by the chips rack and the day's specials chalked up on the black surface of the menu board. Only then, once I have satisfied my physical and visual hunger will I be able to take Tolstoy's words and make images from them.

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