The Poems of Stephen Kuusisto

AE1_KuusistoEditor’s note: In this week’s Poetry Corner, we feature the work of Stephen Kuusisto, a spokesperson for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, who teaches creative writing at Ohio State University. His best-selling memoir, “Planet of the Blind,” was named a Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times, and his essays and poems have appeared in Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, Seneca Review, and currently can be seen in the latest edition of Red Wheelbarrow. The following poems are from “Only Bread, Only Light,” by Copper Canyon Press.




Tenth Muse
By now I should be used to this,
This looking to the tops of trees
And seeing nothing —
No pearl-jade curtains,
Not a single nest.

Blindness is a long, inlet wave —
Even at noon the swimmers vanish
As when Odysseus saw ghosts,
Distinguished them from weeds
Or stones … and they were gone.

Here is the shore.
This season of cataract,
Even the shallows, true emerald,
Promise some erotic terror.

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.


AE2_KuusistoSummer at North Farm
Finnish rural life, ca. 1910
Fires, always fires after midnight,
The sun depending in the purple birches

And gleaming like a copper kettle.
By the solstice they’d burned everything,

The bad-luck sleigh, a twisted rocker,
Things “possessed” and not quite right.

The bonfire coils and lurches,
Big as a house, and then it settles.

The dancers come, dressed like rainbows
(If rainbows could be spun),

And linking hands they turn
To the melancholy fiddles.

A red bird spreads its wings now
And in the darker days to come.


Ode to My Sleeping Pills
Dusk that passes
Through a priest’s glove,
Evening with spring birds,
It’s good of you to wait
Like the sister
Who gives out bread
At the convent —
Where even late
A line of children
Stands at the window,
The bread a dry whisper
From her invisible hands.

Each warm bundle
Includes its black feather,
Sticks from the first nest.
With these you comb my hair,
Smooth my face,
Perfect me in secret
Like the rose
That was eaten at dawn
By that early pope
Whose name I won’t remember.

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