John Lee Clark
LINE OF DESCENT
Susannah Harrison, “Songs in the
Night by a Young Woman under Heavy
Afflictions,” didn’t touch him, but Morrison
Heady traveled by stage from Louisville
to touch Laura Bridgman, who
demanded that Helen Keller wash her hands. Helen
later touched many of us but didn’t let us
touch her back. Thankfully Laura also
touched Angeline Fuller, who
touched Clarence J. Selby, who
touched the whole world, first in Chicago
and then in Buffalo. Who shall we
choose for next in line? John Porter
Riley. We don’t know who
he may have touched. We know far more
about his white classmate, but we hope
that he touched Geraldine Lawhorn, perhaps
at an Ohio Home for the Aged and Infirm
Deaf Easter Dinner. Jerrie
touched too many to number. Robert J.
Smithdas, who was an elitist bully
hiding behind poems so beautiful they opened
checkbooks. May he tremble
in peace. Richard Kinney, who
joked that the armed forces wanted him. “The Army
wanted me to join the Navy, the Navy
wanted me to join the Marines, and the Marines
wanted me to join the Army.” But his hands
oozed nicotine. I instead claim Marjorie
McGuffin Wood, “Dots and Taps,” who
insisted she was no saint. She fought
until she touched every one of us
in Canada, including Mae Brown. But Mae
turned out to be Our Lady
of Untimely Death. So Marjorie kept on
touching until 1988. My father Lee
was then still in denial, so it was I who
later touched him, not him me.
Leslie Paul Peterson, whose
poems still tap my shoulders in autumn. Dear too
Melanie Ipo Kuu Bond, whom
Uncle Tim Cook called Momma Nature
because she was so down to earth. But she
called herself the Black Turtle Lady
because the race is not to the swift. It is to the
slow and sure, certain of who we are.
My grandfather spanked her. Half the time
she didn’t know why. He didn’t have the words
to tell her. After she got married and gave birth
to three children, he wanted to say something
to us. His hands creaked to life, building
stories about buildings. The sod hut
he was born in. The red barn on the farm.
The basement he put his family in while building
a house above their heads. The Ramsey Hospital
where he was foreman and where we would be born.
The Ramsey County Jail we always pointed out
on our way to visit Grandma and Grandpa.
The bird houses in their green garden.
It didn’t matter what kind of building
it was, as long as it was done with his hands.
A DEAFBLIND POET
A DeafBlind poet doesn’t like to read sitting up. A DeafBlind poet likes to read Braille magazines on the john. A DeafBlind poet is in the habit of composing nineteenth-century letters and pressing Alt+S. A DeafBlind poet is a terrible student. A DeafBlind poet does a lot of groundbreaking research. A DeafBlind poet is always in demand. A DeafBlind poet has yet to be gainfully employed. A DeafBlind poet shares all his trade secrets with his children. A DeafBlind poet will not stop if police order him to. A DeafBlind poet used to like dogs but now prefers cats. A DeafBlind poet listens to his wife. A DeafBlind poet knits beautiful soft things for his dear friends. A DeafBlind poet doesn’t believe in “contributing to society.”
-from How To Communicate, selected by Spring 2024 PoemoftheWeek.com Guest Editor, Sheila Black
Reprinted from How to Communicate by John Lee Clark. Copyright © 2022 by John Lee Clark. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
By way of brief introduction, let me say this in a rush: I (John Lee Clark) am a DeafBlind poet, essayist, historian, translator, and an actor in the most thrilling development in DeafBlind history, the Protactile movement. Currently I’m a 2021-2023 Bush Leadership Fellow, a core member of Protactile Language Interpreting National Education Center, and a research consultant with the Reciprocity Lab at the University of Chicago.It has been my honor, recently, to be a member of the inaugural class of Disability Futures Fellows and the recipient of a National Magazine Award for my essay “Tactile Art” as well as the Frederick Bock Prize from my beloved Poetry magazine.More suggestive of the vibrations around me, though, are my neurodiverse habits and obsessions, my love of reading and rummaging around in abandoned archives, my feeling of fierce kinship with fellow DeafBlind people and Protactile accomplices, my occasional turns to knitting and other artmaking, my tendency to plunge into warm bodies of water.I am blessed to make my home in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, with my brilliant partner, the ASL Deaf artist Adrean Clark; our three amazing roommates, a.k.a. our kids; and two feline collaborators.