Poet Stephen Kuusisto faced a crisis when he lost his job as a poetry professor in upstate New York. Kuusisto has been legally blind since birth, and he now needed a new job—and a new way of navigating the world. It’s a journey he explores in Have Dog, Will Travel.
Growing up in the 1950s, Kuusisto’s parents taught him to never show others his blindness, to live actively and try to ignore his limitations. He writes, “My parents thought disabled kids were victims of a nearly unimaginable fate, a predatory darkness.” Incredibly, he rode a bike, marched in Boy Scout parades and read with books pressed against his face. But he also faced endless bullying and was forced to live in a carefully circumscribed world that he navigated by familiarity and step counting. “Faking sight is like being illiterate—you pretend to competence but live by guesswork,” he writes. Nearing 40, he finally decided to stop pretending.
Kuusisto met with a representative from the New York State Commission for the Blind, who was hardly encouraging and doubted Kuusisto would find work. He referred Kuusisto to a company that manufactured plastic lemons for lemon juice, saying they sometimes hired blind people.
Yet he did not let this less-than- heartening meeting deter him from seeking assistance. Enter Kuusisto’s first guide dog, a yellow Labrador named Corky. Their “arranged marriage” expanded Kuusisto’s world by literal leaps and bounds, and their relationship forms the heart of this enchanting, enlightening book. As Kuusisto describes, having a guide dog “doesn’t feel like driving a car. It’s not like running. Sometimes I think it’s a bit like swimming. A really long swim when you’re buoyant and fast.”
Before long, Kuusisto is navigating the streets of New York City with Corky, experiencing a sense of freedom he’d never felt before. And in the years that followed, Corky not only liberated this poet but also ushered him back into the world, opening up his life in ways that he would never have imagined. Have Dog, Will Travel is an illuminating memoir of mobility, ability, delight and discovery.