Not over there. Here. (2004)

I saw an outside world
Filled with ideas and people
Who treated me as if I wasn’t there
I dug deep into my mind
Crafted words with my bare hands
To tell the world:

I am here.
No, not over there.
Here.

Those who noticed at all, told me:
You are not trying hard enough.

No, no.
Not over there.
Here.

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Unfolding

Sometimes I want to unfold
The beauty of the world
As if it was the most intricate
Origami flower
That had ever seen the light of day

Then I want to wait
And wait
Until the flower blooms for real
Until its velvet black blossoms
Tinged with purple edges
Grow fuzz that you can run your hand over

And I want to hand it to you
And watch you rub the fuzz
Against your cheek
Against your lips
Against your nose —
The yellow-black stamens tickle

And then fold the flower
Back into paper
And put it in my pocket
For safekeeping

I would make more of them
And write secret notes
That only some people could read

They would say things like:

“The most beautiful things
Are concealed all around you.”

“You are a flower and
This is how you become real.”

“You are unfolding
Just like this.
Don’t hurry,
Don’t wait.”

I would hide them in plain sight
And I would hide them in places
That only the curious and observant
Would bother looking

I would hide them in places
That can only be found
When doing shit work
For 22 cents an hour

I would hide them so that each person
Stood a chance of finding at least one
Just one
That told them what they needed to hear
Right now
Just then

Unfold them, they become real flowers
Fold them, they become folded paper
You can do this as many times as you need
Because they are magic flowers

And if you get good at looking and listening
With more than just your eyes and ears
You will find these creations everywhere
Left by someone
With far more magic
Than I will ever possess

You know when you find one because
Suddenly something ordinary
Becomes extraordinary
Suddenly you’ve been let in on a secret
About something you’d seen before
But never seen before

It can be anything from
A spray of mud on your pants
To a pair of decorated crutches
To a butterfly

It doesn’t have to be pretty on first sight
Many times it isn’t
Many times it seems horrible
Until that flash of inspiration
When it unfolds into a flower in full bloom

And then every texture is like suede
And every color is like the deepest blue before dawn
And every taste is like boiled collards with butter
And every smell is the fur behind a cat’s ears

I wish I had the magic necessary
To make these things myself
To fold reality into paper
And leave it everywhere for people to find

As it is, all I can say is
Someone has already done it

You can find these magic folded papers
On the inside of a zero
In the yawn of a kitten
In a feeding tube
In a wadded up rag
In a tangled old root
In a leaf that skips down the sidewalk

And all of them are flowers
And all of them are there to tell you
There is more in this world than you can ever see
There is more love
There is more light
There is more beauty

And you are part of it
Always
Even
(Especially!)
When everything seems to be
Crashing down around you

Can you accept
This magic spell
This gift
From the world
To me
To you?

For my friend, who is upset, and half a world away.

If I visited you right now
I would not say a word

I would confuse the TSA agents
By filling my suitcase
With soil and dead redwood needles
And chunks of granite

And when we met
I would hand you
A sturdy piece of granite
Straight from the Sierras

But I would not talk
I would not type
I would not say a word

I would find a place
By the side of the road
Full of rocks and debris

I would sit with my legs
Splayed apart like a W
And arrange the rocks
On the sides of my knees
And stack them
In the perfect order

And then I would arrange more rocks
In front of me
And you would be there
And we would start handing rocks
Back and forth to each other
Trusting each other
To put them in the right arrangement

And if any cats came by
We might photograph them
Or sniff their noses
(If they allowed us the courtesy)
And always respect
Their fundamental catness

I would have bought you
A bag of blue marbles
Somewhere along the way
And I would hand you the bag
And look away
As the sky turned to twilight
And perfectly matched
The blue of the marbles

And I would never speak
And I would never type
And I would never say a word

You speak my language
Do you know how rare that is?

For anyone who speaks my language
And does it so well
I would travel to the ends of the earth
With a suitcase full of soil and granite
And spend the whole day
And never have to type
Not a single word

I would stand outside your borders
With rocks in my hands
And you would stand outside my borders
With rocks in your hands

And somehow
The rocks would exchange hands

And somehow
We would build
A sculpture of rocks
In between us
That said everything
That no word
Ever could

If you wanted
I would cover you in rocks
As you lay in the dirt
So that you could feel
The rocks weighting you down
Tying you back to the earth
Under its protection
Away from the things
That are hurting you

But only if you wanted

These are the languages
I know how to speak best:

I speak Rock
I speak Tree
I speak Redwood Sorrel
I speak Soil
I speak Lichen
I speak Moss
I speak Dirt
I speak Mud
I speak Water-and-Earth
I speak Creek
I speak Fire
I speak Autistic (some dialects)

I will speak any of these languages
And more that I have not named
If any of them
Will make you feel better

I may not always be a good friend
I may not always remember you exist
I may go months forgetting about you

But when I remember
I will do anything
If it will make you feel better
What I lack in memory
I make up for in loyalty and love

I can’t guarantee that I will always be there
But I can guarantee that when I am there
I will be there — all the way there
And I will be there for you
To the best of my ability
Because that is what being a friend is about

And I will not speak
I will not type
I will not utter a single word
Through a keyboard
Or a PECS symbol
Or anything else

You don’t need more words right now
You need experiences
You need ties to the sensory world
You need rocks, lots of rocks
You need friends who don’t condescend
You need to see cats
You need people who speak your language

We can hand each other rocks
I can help you arrange them
In a style that blends both of ours
And shows
To anyone with eyes to see
(Which is almost nobody, mind you)
That we are friends
That we have collaborated
That the work is a blend of both of us

And that is our language
For any bystanders
Who may be confused
Reading a poem
About the language of rocks
As spoken by
Two autistic people

Each rock that we arrange
Has a place, and a meaning
We know these rocks inside out
We know where the rocks want to be
And we put them there

It becomes a collaboration
Between you
Between me
Between the rocks
Between the ground
And in the end
It is more than it was
In the beginning

After we are gone from that place
Some people will see a bunch of rocks
Some people will see art
Some people will see sculpture
A very few people will see
Two friends
Collaborating with rocks and the earth
To show all the connections
We can’t show to others
If they don’t speak Rock

And I would not speak
And I would not type
And I would not use picture symbols
And I would not use sign language
And I would not use words
And I would not use ideas

But exchanging rocks
And making rock piles
Would tell us each
More about the other
Than any words

But I can’t fly
And I don’t have enough granite
For my suitcase
And all of this
Is just a dream
Of what I would do for you
If I could

So I have to type
I have to paint a picture
Using words
To show you what I would do
If I only could
To show you that I care
About your happiness
To show you that
I can speak Autispeak
When I need to

And most of all
To give you a break
From all that is harming you
So that when you face it again
You will face it with renewed energy
Renewed resolve
To face it in whatever way you want to
Not just the way they corral you in

I would give you lapis lazuli
And tiger’s eye
And black tourmaline
And moss agate
And amber
And granite

Rocks in your pocket
And rocks in your hand
Will tell you more about
Your place in the world
Than any group of people
Will ever be able to tell you

Rocks in your pocket
And rocks in your hand
Will dance with you
And sing to you
In words only you can hear
They will give you strength
That only rocks can give

Remember to listen
Hear them singing
To the rocks in the ground
And the sand that once was rocks
They sing of things
That only rocks know

And when you face the people
Who condescend to you
Even about the rocks
Who see you as an adult-size child
The rocks in the pocket
Will weigh you down
So the people can’t push you up
Into the air
Without your permission

I can’t give you rocks
I can’t make rock sculptures with you
I can’t sit in the dirt by the side of the road
And find rocks everyone has forgotten
And stack them in towers on my knees
These are things I can’t do with you

But I want to
And that should count for something
I hope it’s enough
Even if just barely enough
For you to know
I want to do these things
I want to speak our mutual autistic languages
I want to leave words behind
Just for a time
I want to show you
What can be possible

And that is what I would do
If I could do it
But maybe just writing about it
Will have to be enough

And most of all
I want to create a sanctuary
Where you don’t have to talk
Unless you want
And you don’t have to let anyone in
Unless you want

And you can take the love of our friendship
Back out into the world
With the rocks in your pockets
And the rocks in your hands
And know that the rocks
Will love you
And protect you
In the way only rocks know how

When asked to choose between politics and friendship, I choose friendship.

[Note: There are disability slurs in this post, and I deliberately chose some of the worst ones I could think of (as well as some words that can be offensive but aren’t slurs), in order to make the point of exactly how much I will choose friendship over politics.  So don’t read it if the r-word and such are going to upset you.]

If
And only if
You have the deepest love in your heart
And the deepest respect in your bones
Then
You can call me retard
And I will not be offended

If our every interaction
Shows that your respect for me
Has deep roots
That dig into the soil
And bring up clear water
To nourish both of us

If our every interaction
Shows you serving us tea
Made of the water of life
Steeped in love
For as long as it takes

If the music of life
Makes us resonate
Down to the very bones
As if whoever made us
Made our bodies sing
In perfect harmony

Then it’s okay with me
That you talk about my disabilities
As a tragic personal obstacle
That I am brave to overcome

And it’s okay with me
That you call me words
Like retard, and cripple, and idiot savant

And I would rather spend time with you
Oh how I would rather spend time with you
Than someone who has memorized
The list of ableist words
And directed the community to shun
Anyone who says them
Especially the worst of them, retard

I would rather spend time with you
Than with the people who shun you
Gladly and openly
Happy to have a target for their anger
At an ableist world

And understand
To me the two worst words in the world
To call a human being
Are retard and vegetable
And yet I would let you call me those things
And prefer your company
To the company of some people
Who understand all too well
The destructive power of those two words

Make no mistake about it:
These are words that draw blood
They are words that kill
They are words that have already done
More killing than you could ever imagine

I don’t deny
That when you say these words
They strangle me
They threaten to leave me for dead
They draw blood
They punch me in the gut
And you are oblivious to this

But when people shun you
They are saying
“You are a bigot and I am not
Because I hide my bigotry
Better than you hide yours.”
They are saying
“I have the skills to look shiny
And you don’t
Nanny nanny boo boo
I’m the winner
Of the social game.”

Every person I have ever met
Is a bigot in some way
Every person I have ever met
Has viewpoints
That cut, that punch, that draw blood
Even that kill

The people who can hide that side of themselves
Fare better in these parts of the world
That I seem to frequent lately
They can play the social game
They can land on top
Even if they have not an ounce
Of love or respect
In their hearts
Or their bones

Nobody announces to the world
“Here comes an ableist bigot, shun them!”
Even if they are more bigoted than you
And less loving and respectful

You are one of those rare people
Who allows hard-core love
To flow through you
And influence everything you do
Who roots their every action
In respect

But you don’t just say the wrong words
You say the worst words
The words that even I agree
Are terrible, bone-crunching slurs
That rip my heart out of my chest
Still beating
Words that tell me
I may be in mortal danger

So nobody can see your love
They are too busy seeing the slurs you use
To see who you are

Yet still, I love you
I can’t help loving you
Your love and respect
Nourish both of us

I don’t ask anyone to feel sorry for you
I don’t ask anyone to excuse your bigotry
I don’t ask anyone to like the words you use

But I would ask some questions:

Why are you worse
Than the people who
Erase the word retard from their lips
But not from their hearts?

Why single you out
When every last one of us has opinions
That draw blood, that destroy
That maim, that kill?

Why target people for community shunning
Instead of looking inwards at ourselves
And our own secret bigotries
That we are loath to change?

Why do we measure people
By their ability to not do something
That signals bigotry
On a shallow level
Rather than
By their ability to do something
That signals love and respect
On a deeper level?

You have clasped your fingers
Interlocking with my fingers
And formed a connection
That stood against a hostile world

You have stood in front of me
When other people threw rocks
You have taken beatings for me
And made sure nobody forgot
Not to mess with you

You have proven to me
That I can trust you
With my life

You have proven to me
That I can trust you
With the words
That normally take my life away

Retard Vegetable Cripple Psycho Lunatic
You can say them all
And I will trust you
With these verbal weapons
Of mass destruction

I will trust you, you saying those words
Over those who would never say those words
But would never stand in front of me
To take blows that were meant entirely for me

I will trust you, you saying those words
Over those who would never say those words
But would never touch me
Much less clasp my hand in love

I will trust you, you saying those words
I will defend you, you saying those words
I will not desert you, you saying those words
I will not shun you, you saying those words

I will not participate
I will simply not participate
In the way my community treats people
Who say those words

Because there is always context
Because sometimes that context involves
Love
Self-sacrifice
Protection
Respect
Inner beauty
Connection
Community

And all of those are more important
Than words
No matter how much blood the words draw
No matter how much they hurt
No matter how much suffering and death
They may be connected to

I will not participate in social sanctions against you
I will not make it clear to every passerby that you embarrass me
I will not apologize for your behavior
I will not renounce our friendship

Maybe nobody understands
Maybe nobody needs to —
We have something
Much more deeply rooted
Than the worst slur
Could sever

Statuary (2013)

She sits and stares and nobody there
Is the feel that she gets
Coming in on the air
From the muster of whispers
Who cluster around
And she sits like a stone on the ground

But she gathers up her trinkets
Sets each one in its place
And each one has a meaning
Never written on her face

She knows it without knowing
They reveal her full inside
She shows it without showing
There for anyone to find

She sits and stares and nobody there
That’s what they all say
Crowding round unaware
But her trinkets are standing
They point to her soul
One day they will show that she’s whole

Peas in a Pod

They flitted around the room
Like moths
Each one’s hands dancing
In rhythm with the other
Though never once
Did the mother look upon her daughter
Nor the daughter look upon her mother

They danced, weaving in and out of the crowd
Their arms made the same motions
Their hands twisted in unison
Their bodies danced as if
They’d been dancing all their lives

They looked more like a mother and daughter
Than any mother and daughter I’ve ever seen
No man was evident
And no man should have been
Given how the pregnancy happened
They looked alike
So alike they could have been
Twin sisters with a 19-year age difference

Their love was so palpable
That everyone I knew
Looked their way
There was no way to avoid it
They bled love into the air
The way some people bleed anger or fear
And everyone in the room
Was better for their presence

I think about them now
I worry
Is the daughter still alive?
Is the mother coping with what life throws her way?
But they have resilience enough
To meet most situations head-on

I will always remember
When the mother circled around my table
To acknowledge my presence
Without saying a word
And without saying a word
My pattern of rocking altered
All on its own
To acknowledge her presence
And that was enough
For both of us
Without a verbal ‘hello’
That neither of us could muster

The mother is one of those people I love
Whose functioning is cobbled together by pieces
Who always surprises people
Either with what she is capable of
Or what she is incapable of

The reason I love people like this
Is I am one of them
And it takes one to know one
It takes one to see the giant gaps
Between what is expected and what is there

They would call us low-functioning
And they would say it was amazing
That we could do the things we do
Just because we climb the cliffs every day
And cobble together functioning
From the wreckage of the previous day
Our fingers bleed
But we do it because we have
No other choice

I love people like us because
This is my people
This is the people who understand
When I collapse in the middle of a presentation
This is the people who understand
When I can’t say hello
When I can’t type at all
This is the people who understand
That sometimes not typing is not a malfunction
Sometimes it’s a return to our roots
Where words never grew on their own
And thoughts were mere shadows in the distance

The Unnnoticed Communication of a Group of Cats

There are six cats in this room
None of them looking directly at each other
But with the twitch of a whisker
The flap of a tail
They let each other know
What’s happening around them

I have sat in rooms full of the ‘low functioning’
(including, of course, myself, not that I agree with such terms)
Where the staff were very perplexed by us
We were not communicating with each other
They swore this up and down
There was no communication between us
Because LFAs don’t communicate
Especially not with each other
This is a Known Fact

So the staff were always perplexed
When knowledge from one of us spread to us all
When we sensed the mood of a newcomer
And the new mood spread like wildfire
This shouldn’t be happening, they thought
So they filed it away under impossibilities

Then they went through their days
Trying to teach us to communicate
On the most boring levels possible
While we flicked our ears in disdain
And lashed our tails in anger

And all they saw was
Six auties in a room
None of us looking directly at each other
No communication taking place

(Because resonance is meaningless to them.)

Welcome to the world
Where no matter what you sense, think, or communicate
Someone will always be there
To tell you it’s less than nothing

Welcome to the world
Because I will be here
Always
To tell you
That even what seem like a void
Even what seems like a non-existence
Even what seems like a life lived underground
Is full of beauty
Is full of insight
Is full of you

And there will always be people
Who love you for that

Subtraction (a love poem)

Take away the colors, go before they existed, and look.
Take away the sounds, go before they existed, and listen.
Take away the textures, go before they existed, and feel.
Take away the odors, go before they existed, and smell.
Take away the flavors, go before they existed, and taste.
Take away the ideas, go before they existed, and think.

There, you’ll find everything.
I’ll be waiting for you there.

What can you see?

In the voids inside my mind
There’s an ocean, deep and dark
At the bottom of the ocean
There’s reflections of the stars

If you can see the stars
At the bottom, in the deep
If you can see the rainbows
That even the sun can’t reach

If you can see me dancing
Unaware of being watched
If you can see the world
Before a mind, before a thought

If you see distant reflections
Of reflections, of reflections
And if you can see the deep, the dark
The silence between worlds

If you can see the void
That stands in front of me
If you can see how full it is
And how empty it can be

If you see what it’s like
To not know at thirty
What they knew at three

But to know things
And to see things
That nobody else can see

Then maybe, just maybe
I can see you
And you can see me

Mud and Wood-Sorrel

Who did you hold when you fell to the floor?  And will you ever tell me more? Your cast iron hands and your filigree mind have never had much time for my kind. I can rise from the floor and take my leave of here, anytime I want. Just remember, anytime I want.

Tell me of earth, you who have never touched it, but only held it in your mind, an abstract component in one of your filigree spells. And I’ll tell you of words, I who have seldom seen them but as the birds that Donna spoke of, falling without a sound. And maybe somewhere we can touch and find our common symmetry. Or maybe only common disdain. So common, that disdain.

I held out to you a hand full of soil drenched in water. It had the smell of roots, of fallen needles, the beginning of green wood-sorrel. You shouted, drop it, get out, get it out of here!  Get my damn mud out of here before it ruins your floor, your house, your clothes, your furniture.

I fell down on the floor to examine the soil. I ran it over my fingers and inhaled the rooty scent.  And I could find nothing amiss. Nothing of this mud you spoke of with such disdain.

You were never aware of the power of the words you threw behind you, one scrap, one song, one to sting. Mud, you called it, and suddenly it became filth, and I became filth by association. You never saw a beautiful or useful building constructed of mud, I imagine, nor all the other uses of mud… or the very tone of your voice that tells us all “Mud is beneath me, beneath me, beneath me, Mud is beneath me” would simply not be.

But people heard your words carried on the wind. They do that. Your words ride the wind whether you will them or not. And people hear them, and people change.  Your words carried down to someone whose house was made from mud, and when she heard the tone in your voice when you said mud, for the first time she was ashamed.  Half ashamed, half defiant, but all unnecessary if you’d kept your disgust to yourself.

My voice is the color of mud, and my skin is the texture of bark. My love has the depth of water, my touch is as soft as mist dancing past trees in the dark.

But right now I feel bone dry, as if my roots can’t push the water far enough into the sky.  And there’s haze between me and you.  My eyes are like a desert, my kidneys burn in the night while I’m waiting, waiting to put things right.

Can you enter my life without burning me from the inside? Can you steer your way round the curves of my body without looking for all the ways to tell me they’re wrong to exist. Can you?

Or will you just shout at me that I am mud?  And with your words, turn that into an insult rather than a thing of beauty?

I want to curl up underneath the mud and show you I can turn into wood-sorrel.  Show you that nothing can uproot me, least of all words.  And hold my roots in the ground and turn my leaves to the sky and taste how sweet light is and be cradled in the muddy dark.