Popular Posts

Sunday 26 October 2008

Autistic Boy

Gaudy red squares,
triangles, crude trees
with leaves like faces: these
are the alphabet
of his attempts
to touch our world from his.
Among a host of other names

we've labelled it rejection -
his of our world - but the feel
of it is of one calling,
calling, inches out of earshot.
(He is that close.) We glimpse

as through a foliage of tags,
lost in a paper drift
where theory mists and moves,
a modern myth, part natural,
part made by us
who marvel at his alphabet,
but miss the point of him.

Revised version. I have

  • removed the reference to zoo creature - though the allusion was to the retrictions imposed on him, not to him
but also:
  • located the foliage of tags between him and us without relating it to either - an ambiguity which seems to me to be wholly appropriate

  • Changed We are that close to He is that close -psychologically different if logically the same

  • Slightly shortened the poem.

Grateful thanks to all who pitched in with suggestions.


Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

Really really good. And ties in well with your previous post.

Unknown said...

I like "foliage of tags" particularly, but the whole poem too. I knew someone once who, though not autistic, was much of the time cut off from the world, and Ibrecall trying to imagine one beautiful day how she saw the countryside. It seemed that she was suffering a cruel deprivation. Your poem brings the memory back.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, how I do hope this comment gets through! Dave, I keep trying to let you know how very much I enjoy my visits to your blog, and I much I appreciate your kind comments on mine. But, for some reason, they are always kicked back to me! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this one!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Have not been able to comment for some time as my comments keep getting sent back to me., hope it is some google fault, not that you don't want to hear from me any more. I love this poem - particularly "paper bars" - yes they are often that flimsy and yet we cannot break through. Have you read about the Piraha tribe in yesterday's Books (I am pretty sure you read the Times) - so interesting in the light of your poem. Regards

Marion McCready said...

Yes, nice how it follows on from your last post. I particularly like the first stanza - 'leaves like faces' and 'the alphabet of his attempts' - nice one.

hope said...

Those kinds of kids stay with you forever.

When I was doing my student teaching, I worked with a 5 year old boy named Stanley who had a mild form of autism. And yet for all the difficulties he had with things so simple for other kids, he always had a smile on his face. I can still see it.

Your last line made me wonder what I missed that Stanley saw.

Anonymous said...

That's a fine poem, Dave - tight, focussed and true. '...part made by us who marvel / at his alphabet, /
but miss the point of him' is a hell of a clincher line! Reuben is mildly autistic, diagnosed as high functioning Asperger, and so the poem has personal resonance. A tentative suggestion: you could offer it to the National Autistic Society. There's always a need to characterise this widespread but still much misunderstood condition and that's the very issue that your poem addresses.

Anonymous said...

PS. http://www.autism.org.uk/

Dave King said...

Thanks. Yes, though the tie-in was quite fortuitous.

Dave King said...

I think cruel deprivation expresses it precisely. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Dave King said...

Pamela Terry and Edward

I do seem to be getting your comments, though I am so sorry you are having trouble leaving them. (You don't happen to be trying to email me, do you? There was a similar little local difficulty with the emails a while back. If so, the gmail address below should cause no trouble.)
I am very appreciative of the trouble you are taking, but we must try to clear it up.

Dave King said...

The Weaver of Grass

Thanks for that. You, too! I can't think what the trouble might be, but will try to look into it.

No, I had not read about the Piraha tribe. I do take The Times, but not on Saturdays, when I take The Guardian.

Dave King said...


Thanks for that - but most of the work was done by him, of course.

Dave King said...


We will never know, alas, what they see and we miss. I am sure there are things, though.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that. I am really quite touched by your suggestion.

Lucy said...

This and the previous post are real tours de force, I think, frank and compassionate and original.

I also enjoyed the post on chapels, cathedrals and installations. I hope you finally get to see the Matisse one at Vence, you've certainly inspired me to want to!

Thanks again for all you do here; sometimes I put off coming because I want to do your posts justice and not rush through them, and sometimes I can't always think of suitable comments immediately,and then the moment passes, but I very much appreciate your writing, which is quite unlike anything I find elsewhere.

Dave King said...

I ahve been to the NAS website, but they are very much discouraging poems, so I have not folloed through with it. Many thanks, though, for the thought.

Dave King said...

Thanks for that. I doquite understand. I often do (or don't do!)exactly the same when visiting blogs. I leave with the full intention of going back after I've had a think, but quite often am not sufficiently satisfied with what I've thought!

Jim Murdoch said...

The autism aside I like the whole subtext to do with the inability of one person to effectively communicate with another. I think, considering the inherent weaknesses in language, that how any two 'normal' people manage this is a miracle. And then we stick art in the mix as a conduit and everything goes up in the air. A very effective portrait, Dave.

McGuire said...

Strong poem. I particularly liked this section:P

'we've labelled it rejection -
his of our world - but the feel
of it is of one calling,
calling, inches out of earshot.
(We are that close.)'

I really liked the emphasis of 'we are that close' through parenthesis and generally, it struck out at me, 'we are that close yet so far apart' - in some ways we are all on the autistic spectrum.

Dave, have you ever heard of Oliver Sacks? I suggest, if you have the time for some rally interesting and readable tails of neurology and mental deficits and excesses, you seek him out. Particularly: 'The Man who mistook his wife for a hat' and 'An anthropologist on Mars.'

I have always had an interest in how the mind works, how disability reveals the limits of the mind and also the unbeliebable adaptability of a supposed 'damaged' mind. Worth reading.

Mistlethrush said...

A strong poem - well done. Not sure about the zoo creature though - has potential to offend?

I have to ask - are you the same David King who is one of the runner ups in the Envoi International Poetry Competition? Congratulations if you are.

Fiendish said...

are the alphabet
of his attempts
to touch our world from his."

The rhythm and resonance of the above lines are probably the most beautiful thing I've read this week. Today, anyway. Thanks.

Mistlethrush said...

Forgot to say that I think using art work is a good way into a difficult subject. And the lines:

He peers
at us as through
a foliage of tags,

is very evocative. Labelling can present difficult barriers. Well said

Dave King said...

I agree. I think the whole question of how we manage to communicate using a language that was developed for more pedestrian matters is really fascinating. Being confronted by someone with autism is one of the situations which throw the whole matter into relief - as does the way we strain the language to express the almost inexpressable.

Dave King said...


I have heard of Oliver Sacks and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat", but no, I have not read the book. I think I must now. Thanks for that and for your other comments.

Dave King said...

I have to admit that I did have qualms about the "zoo creature" analogy. I tried an alternative version, but didn't like it. I think I must look at it again. Thanks for pointing it out.
No,'fraid not! I had not even heard of the .Envoi International Poetry Competition. Sorry to disappoint - it's a very common name!

Dave King said...


Thanks for that. I am very happy to settle for today!

Dave King said...


Thanks again - for the further comment.

Rachel Fox said...

I like the 'alphabet/ of his attempts' (great) and the 'foliage of tags' but am with the other commmenter about the zoo creature. It's not wrong...but it does take the poem off into different territory, in a way. Maybe 'like a prisoner' (if you're wanting to carry on with the 'paper bars'? That'll be up to you!

Dave King said...

Yes, point taken. Thanks.

Kat Mortensen said...

Dave - I know little of Autism, except for having worked in a classroom with a teaching assistant who was assigned to a boy born with it.
This is not an easy subject to deal with in a poem. I struggled with it on the first reading, but it started to come together for me on subsequent readings.

Now, we are apparently linking Autism with booster shots for MMR so I suppose we are responsible for this affliction. We create the problem and then use the "bars" to resolve it. We, as human beings have always reacted this way - with bars and asylums and hospital wings.

This is a truly thought-provoking piece.


P.S. Thanks for commenting on my Fall poem and for "following" me.

Dave King said...


There are so many ways of looking at this subject. In fact, part made by us was simply meant to refer to the fact that there is an environmental element to the condition, as well as a genetic one - probably, but it all depends on the theory you ascribe to. Hence the redraft. I thought the meaning had got a bit lost.
Much obliged to you though, for your input.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think there's an important message here. Only in a poem could you say so much in such a short space.

Dave King said...

Sweet Talking Guy
That's probably the biggest compliment you could pay. Much thanks!