Poison Oak Fears

My fears are growing like poison oak
There are phone calls every day
They say “Come Skype with your father,
Though he’s feeling very weak today.”

Video chats with my father
Are the best conversations I’ve had
We don’t talk, we just sit and look at each other
And the love blooms like flowers befween us

My father can no longer hide
How bad he’s feeling
Sometimes parts of his face turn bkue
And as if he has become translucent
The light of eternity shines through him
Sometimes he clearly struggles to breathe
Sometimes the pain jolts through his body
Sometimes he has no energy
To do anything but lie there and look at me
Out of half-closed eyes

We have little need for words now
What can be said has been said
He can read on my face unconditional love
I can read on his body both love and suffering

So we lie in our hospital beds
Thousands of miles away
And we stare at each other and feel the love
As if we were still hiking the ancient forests
He hiked me through as a child

Those forests were filled with love
And so are we as we stare at each other
Each of us falls asleep
He sometimes loses track
But love — the important part —
Still blooms like redwood sorrel
Carpeting the forest floor

But fear grows like poison oak
And I fear that one of these days
The message will no longer be
“Your dad may be well enough
To Skype with you a little today.”
I fear that instead it will be
“Take your dexamethasone right now
Because your father passed away.”

Will I cry?
Will I go numb?
Will I be enraged?
Will I throw myself into projects?
Will I become unable to function?.
Will I be able to be there for grieving relatives?

One thing I know
No matter what shows on my face
My tears will outnumber
The drops of rain
In a redwood forest in winter




A tiny seed of redwood sorrel, slumbering in its soil nest
Stones in its lowest spots say to grow upward
Silent hope for something sorrel can’t explain
Stirrings that see it slip from the soil, seeking sun
Sun on the leaves sweet sugar within
Sorrel is social, surrounded by sorrel-friends
Redwood sorrel seeks solely to live in the light
Supported by soil, the sun in the sky shining down

[Writing prompt – redwoods – provided by binghsien.]

My Last Gift to My Parents

Father, your heart is like the sun
Shining on a granite mountainside
Your heart is like the pine trees
Growing up to the tree line
Your heart is like the Sierras
You were seldom absent from
And I know that's where your heart will rest
When your souls merge with the sun

Mother, your heart is like a garden
That grows wildflowers, vegetables side by side
A garden that can only be tended
By someone who knows the lay of the land
Your garden could even be mistaken
For a random flow of wild plants
If it weren't for the fact they're all chosen
For the birds and the bees and the fit of your hands

If you ever doubt that your eye for plants
Is the love that will see you through
Remember the morning glories
You enticed into bloom for a final view
He never thought he'd see one again
And I can bet he cried
When you led him outdoors
To the flowering vines
You had coaxed to climb up the wall

Your hearts have been growing inside each other
Since you were fifteen and twenty years old
My mother hiked in the Sierras
And my dad did some gardening of his own
That's what happens when you fall in love
For more than fifty years, with your hearts
Embracing, unwinding, unraveled, entwining
With all that time to germinate
Into something more than they were

Mine is the heart of a redwood forest
As if you hadn't noticed long ago
My body grew in my mothers womb
But my soul grew in the soil underground
And the redwood sorrel grew out the soil
And turned its leaves to the sun
And the sun sang a song so sweet and smooth
That the plants all stopped to hear
And they grew and they grew in their love
With every passing year
While underground the soil still did
The stuff of life and death and life again

You gave each other your hearts
Long before your marriage vows
And maybe you don't need to hear anything
I'm about to tell you now
But I'm holding up my redwood heart
And offering it to you
And you can plant if in your garden
And you can plant it in the Sierras
And because we are a family
It will.thrive in both locations

I offer you my redwood heart
Because it's all I have of any vaiue
Surely you both see by now
Love is the only thing that will bring us through
Love outside death
Love outside time
Love has meaning when nothing else does
Love conquers fear when nothing else will
Love is everything
Love is everywhere
So my last gift to you
My very last gift
Is my redwood forest heart



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



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



Whippoorwill whippoorwill
That’s the noise my ears are making
Whippoorwill whippoorwill
And maybe they’ll take me home

Maybe they’ll take me home to that place on a hill
I can feel it around me like warm glowing fire
It tells me I have a place
I have a place in the world still
Whippoorwill whippoorwill
I have a place in the world still

Maybe all the dancing colors won’t have to mean a thing
The words couldn’t tell me a shred of what there is to know
Even if I could hear them as more than the whippoorwill sings

Whippoorwill whippoorwill
Maybe the rhythm will get me through the day
Whippoorwill whippoorwill
It’s impossibly blue spreading out all around me
Maybe it will
Be the whippoorwill
Who guides me home
Who tells me of marona

I thought she was just a bird in a book
Until I heard her call me home
To a place she’s never lived
(Except between the pages of a book)

But the whippoorwill is calling as if her life depends on the sound
And I am flying — flying — flying —
— Now a tangled heap on the ground

I pick up a redwood cone
Smell the sorrel
Squish a mushroom with my butt

How would a whippoorwill
From a book
Lead me here
What does this whippoorwill
Know of marona

All I know is I can’t trust my eyes
I can’t trust the words people want me to hear
Whippoorwill is a call from a time
Before hearing, before seeing
When everything was feeling

And whippoorwill calls me back, calls me back
Tells me this is where you belong
This is where you are
Every day of your life
Know it or not

It’s the source
At the center
Of your song

There will be times when you can’t feel a thing
But you’re still in marona
You can never leave

So go to marona
Stay in marona
Rest in marona
Live in marona
Love in marona
Marona is home.


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.