Michael Northen

Cento: Lessening Light

(listen to the poem, read by the author)

I live in the length of light’s long eclipse
now everything falls to me shadows,
mystery and confusion, and now I wonder.
Every night I dream my future
and local musicians play waltzes in a coffee bar,
six different songs  – one after another.
I’ve never been captured by the dark,
I know vulnerability is related to hope:
I’m no stranger to the blues, babe.


1. Desmond Kenny, “My Sense of Blind,” My Sense of Blind, p. 51.
2. Stephen Kuusisto, “Only Bread, Only Light,” Only Bread Only Light, p. 22.
3. David Simpson, “Why I Never Married,” The Way Love Comes to Me, p. 11.
4. Jill Khoury, “Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified,” Borrowed Bodies, p. 19.
5.  Stephen Kuusisto,  “Letter to Borges from Tampere, Finland,” Letters to Borges p. 49.
6. Emily Michael,  “Encore,” Neotony, p. 13.
7.  Kathi Wolfe, “ After Hurricane Sandy,”  The Uppity Blind Girl Poems, p. 23.
8.  Daniel Simpson, “A Few Things,” School for the Blind, p. 29.
9.  Constance Merritt, “Gone Courtin Blues,” Blind Girl Grunt, p. 39.

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(listen to the poem, read by the author)

Digging in the backyard I come across a cache
of old bottles, medicine and beer mostly, cracked
and packed in a confetti of broken glass.
Etched  into the brown, green and pale blue arcs
the half names of apothecaries and breweries
silenced by prohibition remain.
Their antiquated terms (dioxygen, tonsiline, almond cream)
language of the past
repeat themselves to me like the words
of the poets I’ve been  excavating, restoring from the past
marginalized writers whose attempts to name themselves
borrowed the language available to them
words as outmoded as handicapped  and dumb
now shoveled over by contemporary piety.
Like me, they did what they could within their understanding.
When I’ve pulled them from the dirt and cleaned them off
I’ll display the bottles, honor the poems
knowing even now the censorial eyes
through which the future will see me.

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Stuart in Heaven

(listen to the poem, read by the author)

His wheelchair falls away as he ascends.
The hands uncurl that have been curled since birth.
His body straightens.
With Demosthenes, he spits the pebbles from his mouth
and words come: poetry.
No longer different
he strides the clouds like Herakles
glowing in God’s justice.

At first the streets seem bare.
But then he sees them rolling through the gilded streets
the angels, all in chairs approaching
like the mute invasion of a motorcycle town
and he, now Gulliver, hears the laugh
of a desert wind gone mad:
God wild-eyed on a gurney,

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About the Author

Michael Northen was the editor of Wordgathering from 2007-2019. Along with Jennifer Bartlett and Sheila Black, he edited the anthology Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability; with Sheila Black and Annabelle Hayes, he edited an anthology of disability short fiction, The Right Way to Be Crippled and Naked (both books are from Cinco Puntos Press).

Read Michael Northen’s review of Flashes & Specks in this issue of Wordgathering.