Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks

The Dust of the West



My blind father loves to stir the dust
of the West and to kick the mare’s flanks.
He cannot see the dazzling leather boots
he wears are covered with silky dust,
nor can he see the crust of dull sand
on his levis. Blind and wild, he rides
out of Greasewood, whooping and hollering.
Behind his old saddle, my father carries
the camera that Edward Curtiss carried
and the tripod and hood that Curtiss used
when he shot the soul of the West. A wind
shakes and tosses the ochre dust
that clings like a cloud of bees to his back.
He is blind as a bat, obsessed
with the notion that specks of the desert
are . . . eggs. The smallest piece of dust
has an interior, a soul
different from the souls of animals. Still,
an inside that strives to restore itself,
surrounded by palpable light, by blessings,
by a light that pours through my father’s skin
like the sun rushing through visible eyes.
By sensuously perceiving the dust
as it sits undisturbed on the surface
of things, by capturing whatever he finds
suspended in the sepia landscapes
that Curtiss created, my blind father
believes he can burst open the dust
and release its exquisite kernel–
blessings of dirt, gathering and rising.

Poet’s Commentary:

“This is another father poem. A poem to my blind father, a statistician who loved the dust and the feelings and the light of the West.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan and with special permission of Nightshade Press: First Photographs of Heaven, 1994.

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