The Polk Progress was a Nebraska treasure that ceased publication in late 1989 after 82 years as a weekly newspaper. From 1955 until its last issue, the editor and publisher was the late Norris Alfred. In its last few months, the Progress had 900 subscribers in 45 states. Alfred was a remarkable Nebraskan with an uncanny eye for connecting the present with the future. Prairie Fire has collaborated with the Alfred family, the University of Nebraska School of Journalism and the Nebraska State Historical Society to locate and archive many of Norris's writings. We are capitalizing on our good fortune to present many of the Norris Alfred writings to our readership. We believe that his observations are as fresh and relevant to today's world as they were when originally written.
Jan. 2, 1992
I learned, through reading about it, that there undoubtedly was a time when life was evolving on the planet Earth that was lived without eyes. Not to see!? Incredible! There was light and no eyes to see it. Color is light. For how many thousands, perhaps millions or billions, of years did life exist without eyes? Is there color without eyes to see it? That question reminds me of the well-worn conundrum: “Is there a sound without ears to hear it?” Which leads one to wonder: “Is there reality without life that realizes it?”
Jan. 6, 1992
Annie Dillard writes in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek”: “I chanced on a wonderful book by Marius von Senden, called ‘Space and Sight.’ When western surgeons discovered how to perform safe cataract operations, they ranged across Europe and America operating on dozens of men and women of all ages who had been blinded by cataracts since birth. Von Senden collected accounts of such cases; the histories are fascinating.”
What von Senden discovered was the vast majority of blind persons had no idea of space whatsoever. “Form, distance and size were so many meaningless syllables.” Touch, taste, sound and smell constituted the awareness of their dark worlds. I wonder what the poem was about that the blind woman couldn’t write. It must be something that reflects her dark world. If she has been blind since birth, she would have no idea of light and shadow or color. She would have no concept of size. Von Senden wrote of one postoperative patient: “I have found in her no notion of size … not even within the narrow limits which she might have encompassed with the aid of touch.”
Yes, it would be fascinating to hear a blind person recite the poetry in her head.
Oscar Sundberg, who owned and operated Sundberg & Son Hardware with his brother Albert for many years (the business has been in existence since the founding of Polk in 1906) and then operated it alone until his daughter, Janice, and husband Ed Saylor took over, has been blind for many years. His blindness came on gradually. He understood size, distance, including small and large, near and far, light and dark, shadow and sunshine. At age 94, Oscar is still breathing and mobile. He still comes to the hardware store and can feel the difference between a three-sixteenth inch and one-quarter inch bolt.
Oscar was nine years old when Polk was founded and the first lots sold. If he had been a poet (he is a storyteller), I wonder what his poetry would have been? Oscar might combine a stove bolt, the bolt of a horse and a lightning bolt and work it all into a poem because he had, at one time, seen a bolt of lightning, the bolt of a horse and thousands of stove bolts.
To be a blind-from-birth poet seems an impossibility. Without any concept of near or far, large or small, light, color, shadow; nor able to imagine a sky and outer space. Can the imagination of a blind person soar?