Joseph Riippi

Something about Borges and the Blind in Chelsea


Sometimes I pass them tapping their white sticks on the sidewalk and I’ll think of Borges. Yesterday I watched a man in black sunglasses at the Starbucks on 8th avenue reading Braille. He seemed to be staring out the window at the butcher’s shop, petting a cat. Does he write, too? Maybe with one of those complicated typewriters. I watched him run his old fingers back and forth across the pages for a long time. It made me a little jealous—I would like to know what a Borges story feels like. I’d like to know what the word goosebumps feels like. This morning I thought of him when I passed five men tapping their sticks together, almost in unison, moving past the art supply store on 23rd. They weren’t speaking, which seemed odd. They weren’t asking directions of anyone. I remember a cousin once gave me a book for my birthday called The Book of Questions. One of the questions was, Would you rather be blind or deaf? Another question was, Would you rather be burned alive or drowned?


I had a dream in which an army of blind men and women tried to beat me to death with their sticks outside the Chelsea Hotel. Tap! Tap! Tap! I didn’t see if Borges was among them before I ran inside and hid. I don’t know why I needed to hide. I woke and decided I would rather be blind than deaf; people could read to me while I learned Braille. I would write stories that felt like the sidewalk or a rash or a basketball. I would write a novel called Acne; my memoir would be called Listening.


In Borges’ “The South,” a man gets in a knife fight with his country. The story ends without us knowing who wins. I suppose his country; just by the act of fighting I suppose he is beaten. In the sixth grade my next-door neighbor Ben punched me in the face when I teased him for liking the neighbor girl. The three of us were walking home from the bus stop and I told the girl: Ben wants to suck your pussy. I didn’t know what the words meant but I knew they were powerful and would make the kids at school laugh. Ben punched me in the face and the girl ran home when she saw all the blood. We were never friends again, and that was the last day we walked home together. Sometimes, not often, I wonder where he lives. Sometime, if we meet on the street in New York or Seattle, I’ll ask if he wants to get a drink. Will we shake hands or hug? Maybe he will pull a knife; maybe he will lead an army of the blind and they will beat me to death. I suppose I deserve not knowing—it was me who ruined everything. I was the one who took him for granted; I was the one who moved away.

Joseph Riippi is the author of Do Something! Do Something! Do Something! (Ampersand Books, 2009). Recent writing appears in The Brooklyn Rail, PANK, The Bitter Oleander, Ep;phany, and others. His new book, The Orange Suitcase, is forthcoming this winter from Ampersand. He lives in New York.

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