Poem of the Week | November 17, 2014

This week we feature a new poem by Frannie Lindsay. Lindsay’s fourth volume, Our Vanishing, was released from Red Hen Press in spring 2014 as the 2012 Benjamin Saltman Award winner. Her other three titles are Mayweed (The Word Works), Lamb (Perugia), and Where She Always Was (Utah State University Press). In 2008 she was chosen as the winner of The Missouri Review Editor’s Prize in poetry. She is published in The Atlantic Monthly, The Yale Review, The Harvard Review, Prairie Schooner, Tampa Review, The Antioch Review, and many others. Most recently, her work has appeared in the Best American Poetry of 2014.
Author’s note:

Dedicating a poem to a woman with five percent vision presented me with exceptional challenges. As I scribbled the first few images onto my legal pad, I realized I was, in no small way, trespassing. At first, this sense of loitering inhibited me at every turn. I abandoned the piece frequently. Over the course of about a month, I gathered fifteen of the remaining sections into a loosely structured whole. I kept thinking, as I tossed draft after draft into my wastebasket, that 95% is a lot of unseen “stuff” to play with. I wanted to play with it too, if for just a little while. I was jealous. Because of that, the poem felt dangerous.
The subject of “To a Young Woman” is herself a poet. Her voice is striking in the way of Emily Dickenson. Both employ gusty, ecstatic leaps. In my own poem, pity and hyperbolic praise deserved no place.
But the question remained: could I claim any right whatsoever, as a sighted poet, to write about one woman’s specific blind experience? I kept coming back to the same answer: no right at all. If my poem was to work, I would have to ignore the traditional dictum and write what I couldn’t possibly know. By a sort of lucky default, I found myself treating each small section as the quick figure sketch drawn by a rank beginner: pen never leaving paper, the result neither right nor wrong. Hurry in, dash off a gesture or two, and move on to the next every thirty seconds. My drawings didn’t need to depict literal blindness, just a faith in alternative vision.
At least a hundred of my sketches failed. I finally granted myself permission to feel my way along, and that seemed somehow right.


To a Young Woman Moving Alone through Light

Those described as having only light perception
have no more than the ability to tell light from dark
and the general direction of a light source


None of us dream the way you do—
the same few figures in snow—
their bright scarves and mittens


growing distinct


as you come to love them


I have watched you read
your iPhone texts


appraising their intimate pixels
by the light of only your face


these: a clementine’s
gladdest color, cilantro’s hiss. And this:
austere, strong tea.


you would know Him anywhere: the Holy Ghost
whose confident arm guides you across


just as you recognize me from the library steps
by my clipped gait


and in what shall the faithless void come to believe
except your soprano’s flame
guiding the slow choir toward Christmas


each of your stationed things:
the duct-taped shoes your feet hold
in high regard, your calendula soap,
hat with the floppy flower


because of the creatureless splendor of March—
because yours is the kingdom of music—
because you have sent for your father’s
King James Version—


with no mirrors to help, you find
you are happy,


and come home to the new purple dress
someone left on your bed


because of light’s banality—
because if you do not believe that dark is a hue
there is no dark—


because if you believe that dark is a place
it will shelter you always—


you have bestowed upon bricks and weeds
and all of the golden things


deft white fingers


blizzards can always find you


(the beam of your cane,
its tip’s knowing red)


here is another sheaf of the blackest paper
set out for your stately, impoverished poems
feeling their way


to a stout pine desk by a window


and in the italic of you—
and the startle of risen crocuses—
and the balm of the sycamores laying their torn shadows out
like casualties that can be given no further tending—


here thou shall see Him—