Untrained

I.

I knew something was wrong for a very long time.
In fact, I knew as early as our second lesson.
I was teaching you the route to the dining hall
and I told you I would be walking the required ten steps behind
to make sure your cane's arc was wide enough,
to make sure you were safe.
I would be quiet,
unobtrusive, so that if you needed to seek help from a stranger
my presence would not dampen your independence.
"But I can't stand the silence," you said.
"And what if I get lost, and there's no one to help?" you said.
"Just talk to me," you said.

"I'll be watching," I said.
"You must get used to my silence," I said.
"Listen to your cane," I said.
I watched as you made it to the corner of Thayer and George without incident
and when you aligned yourself with the parallel traffic, you took your time.
Your movements were not ungraceful.
But halfway through the crossing, you veered left (sharply, inexplicably)
and the parked cars would have netted you
had I not intervened.
You were crying.
I handed you a pocket pack of tissues,
and after you had calmed a little
I took your arm and showed you
how the street slanted downwards. Still, you cried.
"Follow the crown," was all I could say.
I was not trained to speak to your tears.

II.

The field of mobility is an offspring of the military.
Peripatetics, they used to call it.
In Pennsylvania and California, two men developed a systematic, orderly method
for teaching the newly blinded
to travel with long white canes.

Everything was sharp turns and straight lines.
two o'clock and ten o'clock,
correct instead of right.
These students were grateful,
they did not complain.
They were soldiers
used to taking orders.
They were terrified.

III.

There is nothing systematic or orderly about your curls
or the way you blushed (just the once)
when I touched you
so I could draw a map of your dormitory on your back.

IV.

I thought that I wanted to become a fifth-grade teacher.
I lasted two years.
The shrillness of those 10-year-old voices gave me a migraine.
They were all so demanding.
Their parents were even worse.
My blind students were the opposite.
It was so refreshing.
I felt like a movie director, or a puppet master.
I told them when to turn and they obeyed.
They learned what they were meant to learn.
The concreteness of their successes made me smile.
Sometimes, we would laugh together.

V.

Why did you have to go and ruin the script?
Your defiance follows us everywhere.
I love its smell, its astringence on my cheeks.
I want some of it for myself.

VI.

We were taught that the congenitally blind do not grieve.
How can they miss what they never had?
Thomas Carroll said there are twenty losses of blindness;
supposedly, none of them apply to you.
But last week, when I stopped to admire a mural on a common room wall
and clumsily described how seven shades of blue melted
to create something impossible,
I almost stumbled over the hunger in your eyes.
Afterward, you confessed that you have always hated mobility.
You have always hated your cane,
and that's why you were being so recalcitrant.
Back in the office, I made a note in your file:
"Client's progress hampered by an inability to accept her blindness."
It felt like betrayal.

VII.

In for a penny, in for a pound.
You can't look in a mirror, so I feel obligated to say
that your skin looks like clotted cream
that your lips are full and beckoning
that though you mostly wear black
(presumably out of practicality)
color favors you.
At night, I dream of you
disappearing down subway steps
barely avoiding patches of ice
as you walk to class alone.
Choosing to ride the bus in the middle of a rainstorm
because you can't justify a cab, and arriving at your destination
where you must nurse your sodden resignation, alone.
Yesterday, after torturing (I mean teaching) you for two hours
on a relentless July day
I almost put a stop to everything
to tell you that you could spurn my lessons if you wished:
you can survive on your wit and charm alone.
If I were your lover, and not your teacher, I would take you into my garden
on midsummer's eve, and spin you round and round
until you were dizzy and giddy and disoriented
and entirely not alone.

VIII.

Forgive me for all the times my patience was short
or my tone was terse
or I gave, then took away.
I might not have your stamina
but you are not the only one
who must imprison parts of herself.

IX.

I don't know what I will do.
I can never face another student again.
I know I must go to a place
where people come to detox from undeserved power.
Maybe I will grow my hair long,
wear peasant skirts, take up yoga or pottery.
I must render myself unrecognizable
so that if you ever happen to find me
I will be worthy.

- Tasha Chemel