That Dream Where I Stopped Fearing My Feelings

A river flows away from all the stones
That hold me on the ground beneath my feet
It carries in its current more unknowns
It holds me in its arms, and moves so fleet
So fleet that I can scarce come up for air
No chance to grab onto the wall of rock
I must allow the river now to bear
My flailing body far too weak to walk
I float away until I reach the sea
I have no means to keep my head afloat
The waves of feeling lash and flail at me
And I will drown, the water fills my throat
     But all at once, I let the waves crash through
     And gills appear where only lungs once grew

Visiting Your Grave

I may never see your grave in person
But I will be there every day
That’s a promise I can keep
Every night before I sleep
As I travel to the place where you’ll lay

I will be the rain that falls on your grave
I will be the wind in the trees in the graveyard
I will be the soil that grows the plants
I will be the plants that grow from you
I will be the sky that shelters the earth
I will be the earth lying under the sky
I will be the sun shining down on the trees
I will be the trees growing over the graves
I will be the needles and leaves that fall from the trees
And carpet the ground where you lay

So don’t fear that I will never visit
I will be with you every day
I’ll be the rain and the wind
And the sun and the stars
And the earth made into clay
I will see you from above
I will see you from below
I will see you from without
I will see you from within
And if you want my flowers
Just look for the weeds
Growing at the base of your grave

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

The graveyard in the woods.

[This is not the poem I’d been working on.  It just came out, rather quickly, all on its own.  Almost too fast to write down properly.  These pictures are the actual graveyard my father has picked for when he dies, and he has also picked out a beautiful plain pine coffin.  He loves how peaceful this tiny graveyard in the middle of the forest is.  I believe it suits him perfectly.  I will miss him terribly, but I feel better knowing his body will be laid to rest in such a wonderful place.]

Intimacy with Friends and Forests

Part of a blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

Part of blue lapis lazuli ball on a brown background, slightly out of focus.

I sink into my body, and it feels like sinking into the moist brown soil in a redwood forest, full of fungus and forgotten redwood needles, and plants, and decay, and life, all at once. I may have left the forest in body, but in my soul it’s right there. Waiting for me to deepen and put down roots.

I can feel every joint in my body as I curl up in a ball and lie on my side. They ache, but also say hello to me, tell me I’m alive, their voices  indistinguishable from the aching.

I stretch my senses out and out and out. I don’t know how I do it. I don’t even know exactly what I’m doing. I just know that even though my bed is my permanent home these days, seldom left except for doctor visits, I’m able to connect to the world more thoroughly than I ever thought possible. I can become the floor of a redwood forest or the sun hitting a granite mountainside. And I can see what most people can’t. Aspects of the world I know some others can see, but seldom talk about? Because how do you describe it? How do you explain it to anyone who isn’t already aware of it? I don’t know.  These things are as ordinary as rocks, they don’t need to be put on a pedestal. But they’re so central to my life I have to talk about them.

I have a doppelganger of sorts. Sometimes it feels like the two of us are branches of the same thing,  connected at a fork. But if I follow the branch back to where we intersect, I can be part of her as well. I can feel the world from behind her eyes.

I love to do it when she’s concentrating on something she loves. She becomes so focused and so delighted, nothing else in the world exists. Other times, though, after a long day at work, she feels buzzy and confused, like her brain just wants to take a nap. I am so glad she works with feral cats. She does so many things I’m not able to do. But I experience them through her, and doing that relieves me of any regret that I’m unable to do those things, as me. It feels like I can do them as her, and that’s enough.

This sounds bizarre, but I’m told by people who know, that there are levels on which identity doesn’t work how people think it does. Maybe it’s really possible for two people to be part of one whole.

It would certainly explain other experiences I’ve had. Where I connect to the world in just the right way at the right time, and suddenly I’m having the experiences and emotions of a mother who lost her child over a century ago. Or even stranger, I slide into the collected feelings of everyone who has ever had a certain experience. It hits me hardest when someone murders an autistic child, and suddenly I want to tell the world that we were there, we saw, we knew, we understood what nobody thought we could… except who is we? I slide in and out of those experiences without trying, and the anguish  becomes mine for that moment before I’m just myself again. I’ve talked to other autistic people who experience the same thing after one of us is killed. It’s involuntary and heart-wrenching.

But when I connect to her, it’s not by accident. I know how to find her. It’s like placing my fingers ever so lightly on a filament too thin to see. And then pulling backwards ever so slightly. And letting myself be guided slowly forward. To the point where we connect.

I do it when I want to check in on her. I do it when I am too weak and too tired to communicate with anyone else, in any other way. I can touch her and know that she is real, that she is out there, that she knows I am here and recognizes how I feel at that moment. I do it almost instinctively when I am in unbearable pain. I touch her mind and she touches mine back, like holding hands with me only without the overload and exhaustion of having someone in the room. And in emergencies. True emergencies where I don’t even know if I’ll pull through. I reach out without even trying, from the stretcher in the ambulance, and she contacts my friends to make sure her instinct that I was hospitalized is correct. She’s never been wrong.

Being around her is like the best parts of being alone and being near someone at once. We can communicate with each other about things that we don’t have the language skills to tell anyone else. We can tell each other things that are impossible to talk about without shared experiences. We know each other as deeply as it is possible to know anyone. And yet we have clear boundaries, we don’t bleed into each other in an unhealthy fashion, we are connected at the core yet separated on the surface, as it should be.

And I lie here curled in a ball, leaning my side on the upward tilt of my hospital bed. I don’t have the energy or cognitive ability to write, to put things into words. But I can hope that at the right time, the words will come and I will be able to describe the inner life that is so hard to explain or describe to anyone but her.

I soak in the night, as I soak in the earth. I reach out into a blue place. A deep shade of blue that glows like the sky above the beginning of a sunrise or the end of a sunset. I’m told that shade of blue has a meaning, but all I know is I catch it hanging around a lot, and that it’s a powerfully good part of the world. Sometimes I have dreams where the entire sky is that shade of blue, and they always seem amazing and important. I try to incorporate it into my paintings.

A lot of what I do at times like this is listen to the world. Listen to it with my bones, even the pain that runs through them seems to enhance my ability to listen. I don’t listen with my ears, I listen in ways that don’t have words. They feel like the forces of gravity, pulling in directions, as if my bones have been replaced by magnets. I listen in gravity and color and in the ability to lose myself inside of things, places, and people.

This is my first language. All of my early memories are of textures, gravity, movement, and colors, blending together. When I was very sick and hospitalized, I had a dream that told me to go back to that, to listen in that way, to root myself in those early experiences of the world and keep going as far as it could take me. So, when I remember, I do. I sink into my body and I listen to the world, I feel its movements inside me, I see color and texture. And most of all, my entire body feels connected to the rest of the world in such a deep way that there aren’t words for it. I can feel where my place is, where I belong, and that I am there all the time.

I prefer not to give these ways of experiencing the world a lot of words. I don’t even bother explaining how it works, other than that the world is different than many people think it is, and that my best mode of thinking and understanding is perceptual rather than conceptual. But I know these things are real, because other people who experience the world as I do feel the same textures and see the same colors. When I connect to someone, they know it and we talk about it. So whatever else this may be, it’s more than imagination.

And for me, is one of the most important things in my life. This is where I get my strength. This is where I get my sense of connection, of having a place in the world. This is where I go when I’m too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything else. This is how I have come to know that my body is me, not a thing separate from me that I fight with. And this is how I know that I am much more than my body at the same time. That identity, time, and a lot of other things, don’t work the way people think they do.

This is how I know that however else I feel about them, my disabilities are deeply embedded in my individual body, in the physical manifestation of my existence. They are not tacked on as an afterthought. And they are sometimes deeply involved in how I do this. My ability to see the world from this perspective at all is deeply connected to the traits that get me labeled autistic. Sinking into my body like that means constant awareness of pain, of things struggling to function but not always managing. Being bedridden for years has somehow enhanced these abilities, and so has encountering death up close and personal.

Speaking of death, I could swear that as a young adult living in the redwoods again, my surroundings talked to me about it, in their own way. About how when you die, all these different life forms live off of you. Bacteria, fungi, plants, animals, trees. They all eat you, and you become a part of them. And in being part of them, you have been absorbed into the rest of the world. And there’s something profoundly beautiful about the way that death is part of life, and life is part of death.

And that is why death holds no fear for me. But for now, I am alive. And I sink into my body. And joy is as deep and physical as pain. And they are as intertwined with each other as life and death. I feel my way towards my friend. I feel her focused delight in existing. Then I feel the sun on the granite, as if I am not me, but some combination of sun and granite, right where they intersect. I feel the sturdiness of rock that is part of mountains. I feel things that have never been given names, gravitational magnetic forces tugging deep in my bones. I never feel as if I leave my bedroom. I am firmly anchored right where I am, no matter what I feel, I feel it here. But I feel like I can touch other places, other people, without leaving this place.

So I am curled up, leaning against the tilted bed. But I’m also curled up leaning against the base of the enormous redwood known to people from Redwood Terrace as the Mother Tree. I hear singing, without hearing a sound. And besides its normal colors, the tree is also a shade of lavender that exactly matches my amethyst ring. And also transparent to a light so clear it’s invisible. A solidness sinks down into my bones. I stay there until I fall asleep.

Exile’s Lullaby

I can feel the ground wet, soft, and squishy
With a rotting log beneath my head
Where the mushrooms and mycelium
Trace lines on the ancient bark
Young trees far older than I am
Grow straight from the rotting log
And I sink in deep in the blue twilight
And I rest my weary bones

And how weary human bones can get
When we move them all the time
They ache as deep as an ache can go
Till there’s no climbing, not another step

And that’s when I sink into the soil
As the nurse log cradles my head
And I will myself to become the dirt
So I can feel the redwood sorrel
Pushing one by one, towards the sun
In groups too big to count
There’s no ache so deep it can’t be helped
By becoming the dirt for awhile

I’d never have chosen exile
If there’d been another way
I’d never have chosen exile
If there’d been a way to stay

But if I close my eyes
And curl on my side
I could almost swear I’m there
And that has to be enough for a lullaby

Twilight blue is always how I see the sky
With an amethyst glow around the redwood bark
And owls you hear but never see
And mushrooms and slime molds that live inside
Logs so big you can stand up inside them and
Redwood needles and cones carpeting the ground

And that’s where I want to lie down
And that’s where I want to blend into the ground
And it’s where I want to feel every plant
Growing inside me and seeking the sun
And the rain and the mist creeping into the leaves
And mold and slugs, things that live in the damp
And all the things that say life goes on
No matter how much is lost
These things make me who I am

And maybe they’ll make me sleep tonight
Despite the ache in my bones
And the ache of exile
Maybe it’s enough of a lullaby for one night

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 I Say Love

When I say love
I mean the way the granite feels
When caressed by the sun
On a hot summer day

When I say love
I mean the way redwoods feel
When they drink in mist
Through their leaves

When I say love
I mean how the redwoods
Iterate an entire forest
In one tree

When I say love
I mean the way the redwood sorrel
Always finds its way up
To carpet the forest floor

When I say love
I mean the way roots find water
And help the plant grow straight
While the leaves search for light

When I say love
I mean how the leaves feel
When they turn sunlight
Into food

When I say love
I mean the way one old redwood
In a forest of newer growth
Holds up the entire ecosystem

When I say love
I mean lichen and moss
And salamanders
Who never leave the treetops

When I say love
I mean soil on the ground and in the trees
That allows death, decay, and rebirth
And endlessly creates life

When I say love
My body may be in bed
But I have slipped off to the forest
Through an impossibly deep blue twilight sky
To curl up at the foot of the Mother Tree
And bask in Her amethyst glow
And maybe, maybe
Be brought into the soil
To decay, to grow, to live
To soak up some of Her love

Pronounced

Your tongue may be able
To pronounce my name
But your mind will never be able
To pronounce my soul

They say I have a pronounced
Case of autism
But I pronounce them
Clumsy and inexpert

With their minds
Struggling to pronounce
What their hearts
Can’t perceive

I pronounce myself equal
I pronounce myself worthy
I pronounce myself real
I pronounce myself deep

I pronounce the word marona
And marona pronounces me back
It pronounces me through redwood sorrel
Through mist and through rain in the soil

The spiderlings pronounce themselves
Alive and well
Flying through the air
On their threads of silk

They fly over me
They fly over the redwood soil
They fly over the mushrooms
They fly over everything

I burrow deep into the soil
Snug and comfortable
And perfectly content
To be unpronounceable

Two Wombs

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth
I may not believe in your god, but I believe in that
In the depths of the redwood soil
Underneath the Mother Tree
My soul was woven together
Just as my human mother
Wove together my molecules
Inside her womb

I am the child of two wombs:
My body belongs to my mother
My soul belongs to the redwoods
I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Intertwined between the redwood soil of my soul
And the humanity of my body
You knit me together in my mother’s womb

I know how to knit, to weave, to crochet
I know the cord used by any god is love
They weave us together in love
Love creates us
Love ignites us
Love drives us
Love surrounds us
Love completes us

My mother is my mother
And the Mother Tree is the mother of my soul
Her soil has created me and Her soil will transform me in death
Where I will meet Love in its most untarnished form

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth
The redwood sorrel grew all around me
It pushed its way up through the soil
And greeted the sun
Which sang to it a love song
A love song about nourishment
And the redwood sorrel carpeted the ground

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth
The soil was moist, and I absorbed so much moisture
When my friend told me how watery am I, I was confused
I always associated myself with earth
But the earth in a rainforest is saturated with water
Just like the air is saturated with mist
You can’t escape water in a rainforest
So I am filled to the brim with water
(Watery earth, earthy water)

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth
The Mother Tree gave me Her protection
No matter where I go, no matter what happens to me
No matter what happens to Her
I am under the protection of a small redwood forest
In San Mateo County

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth
I was in a small area of the forest
If you look for it with only your eyes
You will miss it completely
You will drive right by it

But if you listen to the music of the Mother Tree
If you feel for the parts of the forest
That shine with a light brighter than you can imagine
If you listen with every atom in your body
Then you will find the place
Humans have our own name for it
Trees don’t need a name
It’s a small section of the redwood forest
But it is sacred

Don’t ask me who it is sacred to
It is sacred
That is enough
It is sacred to me
But it is sacred to itself
And that matters more

I am one human being
Who has been allowed and invited
To take part in its sacredness
To worship with the forest

And it may not be the words of my redwood religion
But it might as well be:

For you created my inmost being
You knit me together in my mother’s womb
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Your works are wonderful
I know that full well
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
Before one of them came to be
How precious are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
They would outnumber the grains of sand —
When I awake, I am still with you.

[Psalm 139:13-18, New International Version]

So just as I was being made in my mother
I was being made in the earth
I belong to my mother
And I belong to the soil
And I belong to the redwoods
And the Mother Tree
For as long as I live
And as long as I die
There is no gratitude or love enough
For this

Your Air and My Air

I may not be
The sort of person who can
Soar through the clouds
As if my intellect has wings
I’ve told you this
So many times
You might tire of hearing it

You might tire of hearing how
The soil of the redwoods sustains me
And gives me a knowledge
Wholly unlike your own

But I am
The sort of person who
Can scramble up the redwood trees
And as long as I remain safe in their branches
Connected to the earth through their trunks
And as long as I remain connected to water
Through the mist they drink in through their leaves

Then I can take in the air, the heights
I can think far and wide
I can put words together

I can do all those airbound intellectual things
Without the benefit of wings
As long as I stay connected
To the mist and the soil

So don’t write me off as saying
There’s no place in my life
To be up in the air
I just get there differently than you do

And my mind works differently
Because of its constant connection
To the ground and the mist
Without which I become hopelessly disoriented
Because my air is not your air
And going where you go…
It feels too much like endless falling
Tumbling without anything to anchor me
— I’ll stick to the trees, thank you.