Two Poems on Autism

Day 6 of a poem a day from Vagabonding, my second poetry book manuscript (these two from the “One Step Forward” section that I made out of the second half of the too-big “Back for Forwards” section). On Saturday, Ian McKellen celebrated his 30th anniversary of coming out publicly as gay in a BBC interview, saying:

I’ve never met a gay person who regretted coming out – including myself. Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest. Today is the 30th anniversary of the BBC radio discussion when I publically said I was gay. So I’m celebrating!

What a brave and beautiful truth! Being bisexual certainly matters and has been important for me to be open and honest about with family, friends, and in my art/work at various points. But it does not make my whole life make sense in the way being autistic and coming from a family with autism does.

Sometimes the first response I get to saying this is disbelief, because most people don’t actually know what autism is. It presents differently and is less common in women. I didn’t know it when I was younger, but have the genetic disorder in my (broken) nuclear family, as well as other familial risk factors. So everybody including me—the lifelong “little professor” diagnostician bookworm who’s read all the studies since being nicknamed Encyclopedia in elementary school—in other words, a typical autist—missed it. It sounds weird to be happy to have an incurable disorder, but it’s really helpful to have a name for how I’m different—and to accept that difference. Life at last begins to make sense when I talk about autism. 

So here are two poems about that.


“Welcome Home”
After Mary Oliver’s “Members of the Tribe.”

You said when at last I lit my fire
on the dark planet
of our tribe.

Should I name it?
The name makes a basket of shadows.

Pour them out.


Look again.
They are not snakes
slithering closer and closer
in the light.
We are not aliens
whether or not
you like our planet.
And there is no asylum
for the different.
We cannot be cured.

But most of all
for me it matters
that the reason I could not mend
the reason I failed again and again
in that good and human work
was that
I am different.

And if you persist
in trying to cure me
until I am like you,
you will kill me.


That time
I should have died
held my hair
held my hand
prayed with me
in bed
as I waited.

It was Plath
who preferred
the library.
It was Millay
who wanted all of the fuck
and none of the fuss.
It was Dickinson
who stayed home.

In the study
a man with no more manhood
was painting an apple
with cyanide.


on the level red shore,
by riverbeds long dry
of blood and tears,
the others were waiting;

and when they found me
or I them—
I no longer pretend to know which;
it was my own planet,
but I was lost—
there was such dancing.

The savages,
they took me in.
They fed me,
the brutes,
and laid me down
to rest
at home at last.

This was the work of being seen.

This had nothing to do chess
or memorizing π to 27 digits
because e begins so beautifully 2.718…

Jefferson, looking away,
kept revising Monticello;
Carroll stammered, it is said,
only with adults,
preferring Alice’s company.

On that other dark planet
of the past that is an asylum
locked to us
and holding
of our kin
whether they will or no,
a young father who couldn’t love well and knew it
was scrubbing the smokey bar
from his sure and drunken hands
to save life after precious life.
You know that
often when we are very stupid
we are also very smart.


It is not for me to forgive
the shock therapy,
the vibrator,
or the castration.

But as I grow milder,
having put down the scissors
and let my hair grow long again
to see its natural shapes
that I was only frightened
into cutting,

as I grow wilder,
and the forest grows around me
along with the fire
and its shadows,

I forgive
what is mine
to forgive.


And Oliver,
whom I come behind
for advice

but who did not know
the name
of Mozart’s strange faces,
the long-unwanted love of Yeats,
or how Michelangelo
would finally pull off
his own skin
along with
his dirty dogskin stockings.

She knows many things.
How to love the world, for example.
How to breathe each day a poem in thanks.

May she live to be a hundred years old.


“Love Poem”

You are a dog
and I am a cat.
You do not understand
my reticence,
and I do not care.