Writer in Residence

The Colour Purple

Submitted by Dan MacIsaac

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I am very, very short-sighted. Way off the normal sight spectrum. Like a career politician. The spawn of two myopic parents, I am a mole, midget-sighted. My natural focal point is my own nose. No, I have never run for public office.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, matters reached a crisis point. Cataracts were interfering with my reading and hiking. My view of the radiant rainbow spectrum–-especially purple, indigo, violet—was being blocked. Sundown became ho-hum. Sunrise was hum-drum. Monet’s impressionism made little impression. Purple looked puce. So memory became precious. Via remembrance, I was able to summon up a vision of the scintillating violet of the fly in the Celtic legend, “The Wooing of Étaín.”

My natural lenses had turned smoky as antique glass. What I saw was like 50’s TV. The world was bland and gray. Though not so flat and ashen as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. So it was time for the knife. And after my old opaque lenses were plucked out and the new high tech lenses were tweezered in, I didn’t see red. I saw purple. Deep, screaming purple.

I was like the grandpa who dropped his spectacles in the purple dye. Ocean rocks had a new radiant sheen. The sea was a seething violet. The gloaming was indigo. Pale petals turned purple. Everything loomed aubergine. The Earth was all eggplant.

The surgery was not easy. Though the eye has no pain receptors. This kind of operation is carried out while you are WIDE AWAKE! You are not strapped down. But you are offered an Ativan to keep the heart rate down.  I negotiated the dosage to half a tablet because I am a cheap drunk. A whiff of gas at the filling station and I’m dizzy as a sitcom dad.

Once I was lying on the surgical recliner, I thought I was hallucinating on Ativan. Suddenly, I was in a sci-fi movie with a midget space vessel landing on my left eyeball. I could see emerging from a halo of light the spidery silvery legs and gleaming steel probe of the alien landing craft. Well, you can’t move your head even a millimetre when there is metal probing your orb. So I stared in horror, gradually realizing that I was viewing the entire operation--slice, yank, insert, and seal. I could cope only by letting my feet flutter as if I was running away, careful not to move the rest of my body even a micro-inch.

Post-op, I told the opthamologist that I’d been able to see the whole procedure—and he was thrilled. I was the audience he’d never had for his life’s work. A mega myope, I had the mutant vision to follow his every move, his eyeball artistry. The old-time doc who’d trained him many years before had told him about tailors and seamstresses raised in the pioneer days whose close work had turned them half-blind. They were able to see that old leech’s labours during cataract surgery. But I was the modern doc’s first eye witness to his operational assaults.

I suspect that those old-time patients hit the bottle pretty hard before the blades were unsheathed. A couple of days later, being prepped for the right eye, I took a whole pill of Ativan.

So you might ask, did my own writing improve since the surgery? Nope. Though I figure my sense of humour sharpened. I got a kick out of confiding to people how I loved my new implants—and they’d look away from me, embarrassed and confused, wondering where on my body the implants were. Also, with my new Swiss lenses snug and tight, I considered accelerating my poetry career by adopting the nom de plume, Dr Zeiss. But an IP lawyer warned me I’d be breaching at least two copyrights.

Anyway, memory is what serves me best as a writer. Not physical vision. Remember how blind Milton dictated the whole of Paradise Lost to his daughter, who dutifully took down such lines as those in Book IV describing the “blissful bower” of Adam and Eve:

 

                                          on either side

Acanthus and each odorous bushy shrub

Fenc’d up the verdant wall; each beauteous flower,

Iris all hues, roses, and jessamine,

Rear’d high their flourish’d heads between, and wrought

Mosaic; under foot the violet,

Crocus, and hyacinth, with rich inlay

Broider’d the ground, more colour’d than with stone

Of costliest emblem.

 

I can imagine his daughter Mary fretfully asking, “How many i’s in hyacinth?” and “What’s an acanthus?” But if I could physically enter Milton’s Paradise Lost to walk in his Eden, I’d be able see the fantastic purple shades of violet, crocus and hyacinth. And that notion pleases me.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Raised on Vancouver Island, Dan MacIsaac is a third-generation lawyer and served for ten years as a director on the board of the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria. His poetry, verse translations, and fiction have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals and magazines. One of his stories was short-listed for the 2009 CBC Literary Awards, one of his poems received the 2014 Foley Prize from America Magazine, and another poem was short-listed for the 2015 Walrus Poetry Prize. He lives in Victoria. Cries from the Ark is his first poetry collection.