“I don’t tan, I stroke.”–Woody Allen
It’s not like it was a surprise to me. Members of my family have been getting cataract operations since the days when they did it with a knife. It’s our baby blue eyes. My ancestors evolved and adapted to more Northern climes where the gene pool had ice on it a good deal of the year. Only in the past few generations have we crept out of the Highlands and taken our blue-eyed babies to the desert, the land of the Sun.
Yesterday I woke up and washed my face. it’s been a hundred degrees or better for nearly a month and the stream from the cold water tap was tepid enough to make me want to pee when I put my hand in it. It reminded me of pranks at Summer Camp and the VanGogh sunshine of childhood when my eyes were clear and my young body loved the light and even the heat. It’s hard to explain what happens to the human brain when it gets baked in the Texas sun for a month. Those going to the desert seeking visions had best wear their sunglasses. That’s where I fucked up. For me, shades were strictly fashion accessories, I never thought of them as eye protection; I wore mine at night.
It’s a wonder that I have any eyes left at all. Besides having seen entirely too much, I put them through tortures only known to modern man. I stared at a guppy for 48 straight hours one time. I wanted to watch the creature give birth. I had seen her grow in two weeks from a slim maiden fish to a bulging little bulb with fins. It was like that scene from Spencer Tracy’s movie portrayal of Thomas Edision, the one where he sits staring at the lightbulb for days without sleeping or even blinking to make sure it didn’t go out. I was feeling like an amphetamine genius and wanted to see what it looked like for a fish to have a hundred babies born alive. So I watched not daring to blink for two days until she started shooting fry from her little fish pussy like a pisces uzi…pop,pop,pop,pop.
I wore the same pair of hard contact lenses for four years without taking them off except to clean them by scrubbing them with my tongue. I slept and showered wearing them and it’s amazing that they didn’t grow into my eyeballs. Beauty and grooming products are not state-of-the-art in prison and besides I was sleeping with one eye open, sometimes both. Then all those years staring into a cathode ray tube. Old televisions and CRT monitors shoot electrons directly at your retina. I wonder if my optic nerve feels so limp because of those electrons or was it the information that they carried?
I’ve used gallons of Visine. I used to shoot it up. Visine is just sterile saline solution with a bit of bleach in it. It’s much more sanitary to use than tap-water if you intend to inject it directly into your bloodstream. And it still clears your eyes when applied that way.
At first I thought my eyes were just tired. Too much computer work. Then I noticed that I was cleaning my glasses oftener than usual trying to eliminate the blur that I was beginning to experience. Then the floaters. it was like staring into the clouds on a Texas summer afternoon as they change shapes like boiling cotton in the sky. The details started to go first. I couldn’t see each individual eyelash when my lover blinked at me, just a general eyelash. It was still beautiful in its shape and curve but I fear I was missing the texture unless I felt it with my cheek. The fine print was lost on me. Quarters and nickels were indistinguishable. And then distances went, lost in a dreamy fog, anything beyond the length of my arm began to blur and eventually escaped my notice altogether; my world was shrinking. When they told me I was legally blind, I had to laugh because it was another example of the law being a few steps behind conditions on the ground. I can miss a barn if I don’t walk up on it from the broad side and I can cross the street safely as long as the cars are the right color. So it’s not like I’m totally blind.
It’s not all bad being blind. I try to look for the positive side. All women look beautiful to me, even before two AM. I’m starting to find my inner Ray Charles. And it’s true what they say about your senses. When you remove one the others take up the slack. I touch things oftener and smells mean more. I also find myself paying more attention to thoughts and mental narratives when I’m not distracted by shiny objects. So, there are some things to be derived from being deprived. I remind myself that Homer was blind yet his stories saw into the mythical heart of man. This saves me from the ironic embarrassment that I feel about the implied hypocrisy of writing a column called The Poet’s Eye while I’m going blind.
Another irony about The Poet’s Eye going blind is that it needn’t happen. These are the days of miracles and wonders. A ten minute surgical procedure can lift the scales from my eyes. It’s almost as simple as Jesus passing his palm across my visage and healing me with a word. Alas, Christ’s blessings were free and today the miracle I’m shopping for costs ten thousand bucks. That’s how much the world’s most advanced healthcare system charges for it. In India one doctor performs as many as three hundred of these operations in a day and they cost $250. If you think it can’t get any funnier, consider that when you pay ten grand to get it done in America, it’s still likely to be done by a doctor from India. Go figure. No, you don’t have to figure. If you were an Indian opthamologist who knew how to do the cataract trick, would you rather sell them for 250 apiece in India or for ten grand a pop in the good old USofA where you can have a blonde wife too? Free enterprise and good healthcare will never form a good solution. They are oil and water and don’t mix well with each other. The Poet’s Eye, blind as it is, can see clearly that we will be sick until we take the profit out of illness and the healthcare industry, and make the miracles affordable to all.
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?” Matthew 7-3,4