Tag Archives: Hostovsky

Pearl in Bubble Wrap

2 Jan

by Paul Hostovsky

She’s pretty deaf and pretty blind and pretty
in an octogenarian sort of way, her hair completely
white, and pulled back tight from her high smooth forehead.
If staring at the blind is rude, I must be downright
scurrilous. Scurrilous piety, this kneeling down in front of
her wheelchair, to tie her shoelace which has come untied,
then sitting back down across from her to stare
some more. Snap, snap, snap, goes the bubble wrap
in her mottled fist, her fingers thirsting after the next
and the next explosion under thumb. I can see on her face
how sensual, how satisfying this sensation is for her
whose sensations are mostly tactile now that she’s pretty
deaf and pretty blind and pretty alone here at the nursing home
where they can’t communicate with her. So they give her
the bubble wrap, lots of it, to keep her busy, happy, maybe even
joyful, bursting joy’s grape over and over, getting her
eighty-year-old ya-ya’s out in her wheelchair parked
in front of my eyes. And I can’t help wondering
how much bubble wrap she’s gone through in the days
and weeks and months she’s been here, how many miles of it
she’s consumed. She’s probably been to the moon and back
on her fingertips, dancing along the backs of these plastic
turtles, leaping across these disappearing stones, these rivers
of bubble wrap, oceans of bubble wrap. “Pearl!” I shout
into her good ear, the one with the cochlear implant. “I have
to get going now!” She looks up vaguely, pauses briefly from
the pursuit of more pleasure in her lap. I give her a kiss
and head for the elevator. Once inside, I push the Lobby button
several times before it lights up. Then I worry the Braille beside it
with my index finger, all the long way down to the street.

 

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com .

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On Adversity

23 Nov

by Paul Hostovsky

I’m wishing now I’d read that book on adversity,
the one the blind mountain climber wrote
about climbing mountains and not looking back,
but looking straight ahead, or inward, or maybe
upward—I forget now where he said to look
in the face of adversity, because I only read the review
and the excerpt, and I don’t think that was enough
to see me through. Which is why I’m wishing now
I’d read that book on adversity when I had
the chance, now that I have no chance, no net, barely
a toehold and the ropes have gotten twisted
round my neck. I could use that book right
about now. And yet I wonder, even if I had
read that book, would I have the wherewithal to look
where it said to look? Would I remember to do
what it said to do, to clinch salvation in a pinch? I think
not. I think there is no way to prepare for this. This is not
a test. Though some will pass with flying colors.
And for others falling will be a kind of flying.
 

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com .

The Day My Uncle Hank Sat Down to Lunch with Helen Keller in a Café in the Philippines, August 1948

14 Nov

by Paul Hostovsky

it was raining,
but raining so hard that he couldn’t
see what his hands were doing
in front of his own face, so he climbed
carefully down from the truss
of the cantilever bridge he was building
with the Army Corps of Engineers outside
Manila, and made his way into the city under
friends’ umbrellas twirling toward
the brothels mostly, but Uncle Hank
who was always more hungry than horny
headed for Fagayan’s for a bowl of beef stew.
 
Helen was building bridges too, she told him—
“bridges out of Braille dots” (visiting schools
for the blind all over Asia). Then she smiled
and turned to Polly Thomson sitting beside her
(Annie Sullivan dead 10 years already)
and asked her if the young American soldier
sharing their table in the crowded café
with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths,
sounds of Tagalog, Spanish, English mixed
with the clacking curtain of rain filling the doorway—
was smiling at her Braille joke. Yes, he was,
 
but he couldn’t see what her hand was doing—
the fitfully pecking bird of Polly’s hand
fingerspelling into Helen’s palm—to make
the words, his words, almost as fast as he was saying them:
“How do you do that, that, with your hand…how
does she understand?” And so it happened
that my mother’s youngest brother Henry Weiss,
who hadn’t written home in over six
months, learned the American Manual
Alphabet from its most famous reader,
over beef stew, brown bread and beer,
on a rainy day in Manila, and now had something
 
to write home about. Of course he’d heard
of Helen Keller—who hadn’t?—but here
she was, older, stouter, and drinking
a beer, and sitting across from him, holding
his hand now, molding it, arranging his                                                     
fingers and thumb into the shapes of the letters
one by one, teaching him her tactile
ABCs. And her hands were large and strong
for a woman’s hands, and she smelled good too,
and to see his eyes smiling when he told it
to my mother, whose eyes smiled telling it
to me years after, the way her generous
bosom swelled above the checkered table cloth
as she leaned in close to Uncle Hank
and shaped and sculpted and praised,
 
it aroused in him something he never quite
got over. And walking back to the barracks
in the pouring rain, gazing down at his right
hand still practicing the letters, feeding them
to his left, which he cupped like a nest under them,
he must have looked to anyone observing him
like a man bent over his own praying hands;
or a man wringing his hands, for love; or maybe
a man who has just found something small
and glinting, and of great value on the way
to wherever it was he was going, and pausing
in the middle of the road now, he considers
this strange, new, marvelous light it casts
on his hands, on the road, on his whole life.
 

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com .

Portrait of Francois Le Sueur

3 Nov

by Paul Hostovsky

He’s being paid to be here.
After all, he could be out begging,
supporting his mother and two brothers
 
and three sisters on his blind beggar’s
salary. Which was more than you could earn
as a bell ringer, or town crier, or chair caner,
 
which were the only other blind professions
back in 1782 in Paris. But with begging
there was a kind of blind differential
 
marked by the white insignia they wore
which gave the blind the special status
of “aristocrats of beggars”, reserving for them
 
the steps of the churches and Cathedral. Begging
paid higher. Which is why Francois Le Sueur,
the first blind student in the first
 
school for the blind in the world,
is being paid to be here by his teacher,
Valentin Hauy, who is outside the picture.
 
Hauy paid Le Sueur to teach him—the teacher
paying the student—how to read and write.
He learned in three months. On the desk
 
are several wooden alphabet blocks,
an embossed print book, embossed
musical score, tactile map, and his hand
 
face down. Hauy paid Le Sueur daily
what he would have earned in a day
with upturned hand as a blind illiterate beggar
 
twenty five years before the birth
of Louis Braille. It was the only way
his mother would let him come to school.

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com.

The Toast

6 Oct

by Paul Hostovsky

When Gilbert asked me to be his best man
I started writing this little toast in my head
about the National Braille Press where we all
work, me in transcription, Gilbert and Lisa
in proofreading, where they fell in love among
the dots, reading volumes in the goose bumps,
reading love in each other’s voices. And I knew
there’d be lots of blind people at this wedding,
faces tending to the sides and to the ceiling,
heads swaying to the music of their bodies. And I
pictured the white canes sticking up out of the pews
or folded in the laps in red and white bundles.
And I compared the first time I saw them kiss (I
couldn’t help staring) to two single-engine planes
coming in for a landing, zero visibility, turbulence
as they navigated the air currents and crosswinds
that separated them, touching down successfully
with a bump, then coming to a complete stop
which they held for a very long time, like a lost
suitcase the hands believed they would never
see again. And I described how I loved to look
at the hands reading, and would often eavesdrop
over the shoulders, watching the fingers flying
like the pursed lips of the wind. And when I was done
I brailled the toast and gave it to Gilbert to read,
to run it by him before his big day. But he didn’t
like it. In fact he hated it. It was all about me, he said.
My sensibility via his blindness. The story of his
life. And he didn’t need it repeated on his wedding day.
And he tore it up before my eyes, and sprinkled it
on the floor like so much torn up braille.

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com .

Braille in Public Places

22 Sep

by Paul Hostovsky

Touch me, I know you want to.
What would you say if I told you
I’ve never been touched in my life
by anyone who understood me?
And even if they were having
their convention here in this building,
squeezing into this elevator,
looking around for this restroom,
bumping gently up against each other like
a queue of balloons at this
ATM—do you think they would
see me, or even think to look?
I hate my life. I should have been
a poem by Li Po with a pond
and a frog, a soft rain and a pebble
the size of a braille dot thrown in.
At least I’d have something to do
with myself for eternity. I have
nothing to do with anyone. I am
someone holding up a sign
in an airport terminal, waiting
for a look of recognition to come
from among the arrivals who never
arrive. And it never comes. What
would it look like, that look? Would I
even recognize it? Is it round like
a smile? Is it pointed like a greeting
or a touch? Would I mistake it for
love? All of my life I have waited
to be touched by someone who could
touch me like that. I have given myself
goose bumps, look, just imagining it.

 

Paul Hostovsky is a sighted Braille instructor in Boston. He is also the  author of three books of poetry, Bending the Notes (2008), Dear Truth (2009), and A Little in Love a Lot (2011). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer’s Almanac, and Best of the Net 2008 and 2009. To read more of his work, visit his website at www.paulhostovsky.com .