The Lobes of Autobiography: Poetry and Autism

From Stone Canoe: A Journal of Arts and Ideas from Upstate New York (Spring 2008, No. 2):

1. “Sad Dear Saved Me”

“Hours of light like heat hibernate/great icebergs hear the cries of hurt.” So, my son, adopted at the age of six from foster care, began a poem entitled, “Alaska.” Written on a communcation device in the fifth grade, it establishes a number of exquisite analogies–between light and bears and calving icebergs and “hurt” people. By “hurt” people he means kids such as himself who were abandoned by their parents, kids with disabilities forced to survive in a land of unremitting darkness.

That darkness included the worst sort of physical and sexual abuse and you can see him find in the natural setting of Alaska the unlit bedroom in which the abuse took place. Indeed, you can see him find the saga of his entire early life: separation from his parents and sister, then frigid loneliness and injury–the two compressed into an image that does not behave, as my sentence just did, chronologically. The awful calving refers both to the loss of family and to the physical experience of rape, of being split open, as my son explained almost too matter-of-factly. At once inarticulate and faintly human, the sound of that calving seems an apt correlative for the cry of childhood trauma–especially apt in the case of a boy who literally cannot speak and who, back then, had no way of communicating what was happening to him.

As Alaska waits in winter for warmth it can barely imagine coming, so my son waited for relief from his attacker and, even less probably, for parents who might love him. “Yes. dearest sad dad you heard fresh self and freshly responded deserting your fears and just freed sad dear saved me. yes. yes. yes. yes.,” he typed recently on his talking computer. We had been conversing about the past–in particular, my decision not to have kids and my own experience of depression. And there he was the voice of triumphant spring, in all of its freshness, reminding me to be hopeful. Remind me in that language, that poetry, I have come to think of as “Autie-type.”

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