John Quicke

 

 

Keller in Hollywood

 

In 1918 Helen Keller accepted an offer to make a film of her life at the Brunton Studio, Hollywood.

 

"The unconscious cruelty of our commercial society" – Helen Keller

 

 

On the set, the appearance

of naturalness for her unnatural.

A flushed director tapped and spelled

in her hand. Her childhood in the can,

after that the legend – encounters

with the greats like Twain and Bell,

then draped on rocks yearning absurdly

for Odysseus who burnt out

the Cyclops’ eye, then wrestling

with dark Ignorance.

 

She’d agreed the title,

Deliverance, of the torn world

from its agony, but not the eclipse

of politics by myth and romance,

not her robing as the Mother of Sorrows

so “grace” would rub off on the masses

as she walked amongst them,

the extras throat and nostrils sprayed

to ward off ’flu, while they acted

crazy with religious fervour.

 

The reviews were good.

Hacks noted “strong men moved to tears,

children spellbound, mothers torn

with emotion” on reading sub-titles  

“Thanks wizard teacher. I’m not dumb now.”

But on the first night there’d been a row

- a full house in the rain

at the strike bound theatre and not a sign

of her or teacher, who were acting

in solidarity with Equity.

 

And in the aftermath, questions, gossip.

Papers dug up ‘facts.’

A sexual life forbidden by her mother,

the dark barrier between them;

a teacher with a chequered history,

who refused to judge her fellow inmates

in the almshouse, their fears of fondlings,

resort to blades, threats to slice flesh

even as they still seemed desperately

to need male bodies;

 

a teacher, apparently, with an oddball

husband, a radical who prompted people

with the pen, and loved  to discuss

his works at length with Helen

who was said to be “confused

and led astray” but whose nerve

outlasted his. Strong enough

in her own agency to take on the charities,

rich sponsors, business links,

their attempts to dumb her down;

 

and to support the Wobblies,

Lenin and the socialist cause,

her books thrown on Nazi bonfires,

a file opened by the FBI,

so she was forced to hide her red light

under a bushel. Too saintly to be called

un-American, too ‘commie’ to be uncensored,

nothing could divert her from her message

that blindness was the bitter harvest

of infidelity, the main cause: cruel commerce.

 

 

 

John Quicke © 2017