It's the coldest day in New York State in a century. It's also the last day for me to pay my overdue cable television bill. It's now twenty degrees below zero. I'm being held together by Star Trek: The Next Generation, a TV show in which people wearing designer pajamas regularly defy the laws of physics. I don't think I can live through the early evening without the voice of Counselor Troy, an empathic woman who knows what's happening in the hearts of intergalactic strangers. I choose not to tell any of this to my sidewalk companion, who has lost her Chevrolet. She's from Tennessee. I tell her how to find the car. As we're about to part, she says, "My husband just broke his ankle. He's such as crybaby. I told him it's only a broken ankle. I have to find the car now and drive him to the hospital."
On the next street I step aside for two elderly women. One says to the other, "Poor man! And he's so young!"
The other says, "I saw a blind boy just the other day. He was all by himself at the Kmart."
Returning home, I decide to take a bubble bath and listen to National Public Radio. I hear a woman talking about her experiences with menopause; she has to put her head in the freezer, she feels her body betraying her. What really grabs my attention is her sense of the unfairness of it all; her body is doing this to her too soon, she's old already and still in her early forties.
"Me too!" I shout, waving a soapy loofah. "Me too!" I'm already a very old man.
The woman on the radio says that there should be a cable TV channel for menopausal women and perhaps one for men in midlife crisis--both groups tend not to sleep much.
Later that night, awake in my bed, I think about a cable channel for the blind. I remember how a fully blind friend of mine once went to a Kmart in Iowa City and made his way to the TV department. He told the salesman that he wanted to buy a large-screen color TV set. The salesman insisted that all he needed was a $75 black and white set, that the sound would be the same.
Dave pointed at the biggest color TV. "I'll take that one."
"But why?" The salesman asked, almost pleading.
"Because blind people have families that like color.
Late at night, awake as usual, I toy with the idea of a television channel for the blind. At first, I have silly revenge fantasies. That is, the programming would inflict on the sighted what the blind invariably experience. But thinking about television, I remember that public broadcasting is now pioneering a video description service for blind viewers. Skilled narrators interpose incisive descriptions of the visual images on the screen, between breaks in the sound track. Thinking about the tender voices on PBS and the medium of television, I picture the curve of the earth, and the rising stars, and the stylized rays of broadcast energy moving into space. I imagine that somewhere out there exists a planet of the blind, where the video description from earth might be overheard. They, in turn, would send back their own descriptive signals. How marvelous to conceive that our first contact with intelligent life would, in fact, be blind life.
I invoke the planet at three A.M.:
On the planet of the blind, no one needs to be cured. Blindness is another form of music, like the solo clarinet in the mind of Bartok.
On the planet of the blind, the citizens live in the susurrus of cricket winds twinkling in outer space.
You can hear the stars on the windless nights of June.
On the planet of the blind, people talk about what they do not see, like Wallace Stevens, who freely chased tigers in red weather. Here mistaken identities are not the stuff of farce. Instead, unvexed, the mistaken discover new and friendly adjacent arms to touch.
On this particular planet, the greyhounds get to snooze at last in the tall grass.
The sighted are beloved visitors, their fears of blindness assuaged with fragrant reeds. On the planet of the blind, everyone is free to touch faces, paintings, gardens--even the priests who come here to retire.
There is no hunger in the belly or in the eyes.
And the furniture is always soft. Chairs and tables are never in the way.
On the planet of the blind, the winds of will are fresh as a Norwegian summer. And the sky is always between moonshine and morning star.
God is edible.
On the planet of the blind, self-contempt is a museum.
Steve Kuusisto is Director of the Renee Crown Honors Program at Syracuse University where he is also a "University Professor" in Disability Studies. He has taught creative writing at The Ohio State University and The University of Iowa. His memoir Planet of the Blind was named a New York Times Notable Book and he is the author of Eavesdropping: A Memoir and Do Not Interrupt, a book-length essay on the art of conversation. He is a poet with Copper Canyon Press and a member of Pacific University's MFA faculty in creative nonfiction.