alcances mi edad habrás perdido casi por completo la vista. Veras
el color amarillo y sombras y luces. No te preocupes. La ceguera
gradual no es una cosa tragica. Es como un lento atardecer de verano."
you attain my age, you will have almost completely lost your sight.
You will see the color yellow, and shadows, and lights. Don't worry
yourself. Gradual blindness is not a tragic event. It is like the
slow, grave sunset of a summer evening
Luis Borges, "El Otro"/"The Other"
the train left the station
It had two lights on behind.
The red light was my baby
And the blue light was my mind
Johnson, "Love In Vain."
"the Other" fairly recently, when my Parisian e-mail friend, Nicolas,
fellow member of an Internet Retinitis Pigmentosa forum, recommended
it to me. That Borges had lost his sight by degrees, I was aware,
but I had never before come across any reference to this in his
fiction. The "Love In Vain" lyrics, by comparison, I have known
for years, whether as keened eerily by Robert Johnson himself on
scratchy old recordings in that unearthly voice of his or delivered
in an English parody of a blues drawl by Mick Jagger, decades later.
helplessly as the world dissolves into a chaos of bright ghosts
and dark vacancies is not, for me, so gentle an experience, does
not call up the bucolic images of my Midwest childhood memory of
suburban summers that the Borges quotation suggests. It does not
recall for me fireflies pricking the gathering July dark with their
tiny, airborne strobe-flashes, or ice cubes clinking in tall glasses,
or muted talk and television sounds filtering outdoors through screens.
My immediate response to the sanguine reassurance of the Borges
passage was disbelieving, disdainful, to the point of rage, and
the rage was quickly followed by depression.
soon after, in a grieving moment, "Love In Vain" came into my mind,
the very sorrow of the song, the unapologetic, unqualified bereavement
of it, making much more sense to me and, in the way that music can
do, bestowing catharsis and consolation, all at once. And then I
thought of this image, also involving a train, that seemed to say
how I felt, myself.
am the only passenger on a subway car that is plunging headlong
into a tunnel I know to be endless. I can smell the fetid odor of
old stone and sparking metal, hear the clatter and shriek of wheels
on tracks. The tunnel's particulars--tiles, distance markers, call
boxes--fade out with ferocious speed, and the tunnel itself becomes
just a backward-rushing shadow, its concrete embrace more sensed
A vacuum in the belly, a racing in the heart. Now the light inside
the car itself starts to flicker. I feel an urge to jump up and
rush to the rearmost door of the train, to look backward out its
thick glass window. But I know if I do that, what I will see. A
shrinking point of light holding my last sight of the last station,
with its posters, its turnstiles, its few midnight travelers strung
out along the platfform like the isolated figures of Edward Hopper's
paintings. And the point of light will compress itself relentlessly
around that tableau, crush it down to an atom of recollection, to
the visual equivalent of an amputee's phantom limb. So instead,
I stay planted in my seat, rocking gently down the line to darkness,
just trying to think of a good tune to whistle to myself when I
passage trans. J. Deutsch