Poems About Autism

From Navigation (The Habit of Rainy Nights Press, 2012)


My late-talking son is talking
all the time now, a nonstop flow of syllables
and phrases that come out the same every time.
Broken record doesn’t even begin to tell the story.
My life with him is a soundtrack of repetition.

The word itself is lovely, echolalia,
and reminds me of bats. How they find insects
in the dark. And each other. Instinctual,
utterly important. Echolocation.
This is how I see my son’s language.
He’s finding us in the dark, he’s showing us
where he is.

He offers phrases from his favorite books
as greeting, conversation.
On Thursday he ate through four strawberries.
A comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush.
And when he woke up, he found it was true.
And they went out together into the deep, deep snow.

And what if we all listened this intently?
What if we remembered what was said?
Repeated ourselves until we got a response?
Until we heard our own words
echoed back to us?

To fight discouragement, to tell myself that someday
he will say he loves me, to imagine the conversations
we will have, I try to think of his words as heartbeats.
A rhythm that is essential, utterly important.
The sound he is using to find his way out.
The sound that keeps us alive. The sound that ties me
to him, beat for beat, and word for word.



The place in my body you used to be.
Now my heart is on the outside.

The quiet when you finally fall asleep
in my arms.  If you are awake, you are crying.

The days, the months and months
of you not talking, your lack of words.

The silence after the meltdowns.  We
wait out the calm for another storm.

The things you won’t touch, won’t
eat, won’t do, won’t tolerate.  It is like

where we are when the birds
leave us in winter.  But I remember

we planted things, we tended,
nurtured, nourished, and warmed.

The birds will come back to us.
All of this will bloom.


Sensory Profile


I could pretend I know
what you’re thinking when
you’re spinning wheels, your eyes
intent on the turning, your body
remarkably still.  Or spinning
yourself, never dizzying, eyes
tuned to the whirl of the room. You
are running now, back and forth,
circling, colliding your quick
little body over and over into
my body, or any soft thing.


The way you are immobilized
if I remove your shoes on the lawn.
How you hold out your hands
for me to brush off the sand, every grain
too overwhelming to touch.
How this food is not warm enough,
that one is too slimy, this one
is not a perfect rectangle.  You melt
before my eyes, we rock and sing,
rock and sing, rock and sing.


My driver’s window opening is acceptable –
fresh air.  Your back window opening
sends you panicking like a trapped bird.
Your eyes widen and tear, you try
to lean away in your car seat.  You are quiet,
terrified, eye of a storm about to shift.
But then the streetlamps set your eyes
steady, focused.  You center and lean
into their glow, their simple illumination
of what a moment ago we couldn’t see,
what gradually moves into our view.


How you love to cross bridges.
Vibration of the steel under the car, lights
in neat, bright lines, the river beneath
a soft rushing, the bridge lifting us
to safe architecture of air.  You love
the ones with perfect angles and x’s.
Those lit like a ladder of stars.
And the kind that were built improbably.
Lowered whole from the sky.



It’s not what you expect, this bird,
this Ouzel feathered
like any other bird, beaked
like any other, winged and
skin-footed and dark-eyed but
then it begins, the quick plié over
and over and then the diving,
yes, the swimming, it goes
under like a fish, emerges slick,
water beading, still a bird and
still singing, and
still able to fly.

So when my son stands out
from the others, not playing
tag, not swinging or sliding but
instead pretending to ride
an elevator, up and down, floor
to floor, making the sounds,
perfect mechanical tones,
a small, remarkable rush
of a boy, rough-haired and
torn-kneed as any other—well,
I think, he’s just
the unexpected, just the thing
you think you know
but you don’t.