Letter to Borges from London

Stephen Kuusisto

When I was a boy I made a beehive
From old letters—dark scraps from a trunk,
Lost loves; assurances from travelers.
It was intricate work.
The blind kid and the worker bee lost whole days.
I made a library for inchworms.

Now I’m a natural philosopher but with the same restless hands.
Some days I put cities together—
Santiago and Carthage;
Toronto and Damascus.
If strangers watch closely, Borges,
They’ll see my fingers working at nothing.

In Hyde Park near the Albert Memorial and alone on a bench
I reconstructed the boroughs of New York—
Brooklyn was at the center, Kyoto in place of Queens.
This was a city of bells and gardens, a town for immigrants.
The old woman passing by saw my hands at work.
She thought I was a lost blind man, a simpleton,
Said, “Poor Dearie!” and gave me a quid.

More by Stephen Kuusisto

Essay on November

There is at times a small fire
In the brain, partita for violin,
Brier, black stem,
All burning in the quarter notes.
And the hedgerow
Beyond the barn
Calls its starlings in.
Then frost, sere leaves,
A swollen half-moon
Like a drowsy fingertip
Above the apple trees.

Night Seasons

Up late, reading alone,
I feed printed pages
Into the Kurzweil scanner,
An electronic reader
For the blind.

Randomly now
I take books from my shelves,
Open the mysterious volumes,
And lay them flat on the machine.
I can’t say
What’s coming next—
I wait in perfect silence
For the voice to begin,
This synthetic child
Reading to an old man.

The body, stalled,
Picks fragments,
Frottage,
Scraps of paper,
Whatever comes.

Pico della Mirandola,
Egyptian love poems,
Essene communes beside the Red Sea,
Paavo Haavikko’s “König Harald”…
An old professor,
Bitter at the graceful way
The poets have
Of gathering terms
Inexactly,
Told me, “The poets are fools.
They read
Only in fragments.”

I’m the fool
Of the night seasons,
Reading anything, anything.
When daylight comes
And you see me on the street
Or standing for the bus,
Think of the Greek term
Entelechy,
Word for soul and body
Constructing each other
After dark.

Learning Braille at Thirty-Nine

The dry universe
Gives up its fruit,

Black seeds are raining,
Pascal dreams of a wristwatch,

And heaven help me
The metempsychosis of book

Is upon me. I hunch over it,
The boy in the asylum

Whose fingers leapt for words.
(In the dark books are living things,

Quiescent as cats.)
Each time we lift them

We feel again
The ache of amazement

Under summer stars.
It’s a dread thing

To be lonely
Without reason.

My window stays open
And I study late

As quick, musical laughter
Rises from the street

And I rub grains of the moon
In my hands.