Summer Balloon Mind (2004)

Forgotten fireflies in the dark
Dew shoved hot into my face
The balloons and my mind
Soared high with a short tether
Air thick with the certainty
Hypnotic draw of the unspoken
But alas, not the unspeakable

Punched holes in a muggy brain
Thrust and pinned against a tree
We bounced against the branches
Searched up in the sky
Flitted with the air currents
Chased the misty mirages
Never expected the sun

The Singing Tree (2004)

She said the ocean, she was sure
We retraced our steps down the rocky cliff
Stars staring down pinpricks into my head
The human condition, she said
The fog obscured my frantic blundering
World whirling in the rain at the top of the tree
We sang a wordless melody
The air sang back to us
She said the ocean, but I was sure the tree
Dug roots into our hearts

The Name of a Tree

If you want to know the name of a tree, you’ll have to listen with more than your ears.  Human is not a language they speak.  You’ll have to listen with parts of you, you never knew you had.

Feel every groove in its bark.  Trace its branches against the sky.  Listen to its leaves or needles rustling in the breeze.  Sit in its crown with your back to the trunk and feel the way the wind blows each branch.

If you want to know the name of a tree, don’t ask me — it can’t be pronounced.  The name of a tree can only be enacted by that one particular tree.  It spends its whole life shouting its name to the world.  Shouting it loudly, shouting it quietly, shouting for anyone to hear.  It’s a rumble beneath the earth, a whooshing against the sky, a creaking, a subsonic rattling cry.

And once you’ve heard it?  You’ll never forget for as long as you live.  And you’ll learn to listen to the names of other trees.  You might move on to rocks and boulders and mountains.  Or tiny specks of sand.  You’d be surprised how much of the world is shouting its name, and how few people stop to hear.

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.

Photosynthesis

Sometimes I have climbed a tree
All the way to the top
And pressed my body into the trunk
Until I didn’t know where I ended
And the tree began

I’ve never liked the feel of sun on my skin
But on top of the tree it’s different
Because on the tree my skin gives way to leaves
And the sun means food to them

It’s a popular thing to say these days
That if a person is different enough from you
You’ll never understand them from the inside

But photosynthesis has taught me that’s wrong
Because I feel what it’s like
To get food from the sun
And to follow that sunlight the whole day long

My skin becomes bark
My bones become wood
My hair becomes leaves
My feet become roots
And rather than hating the sun on my skin
It sings me a food song
A life song
A love song
A light song

And if I can resonate with a tree
To photosynthesize as if I have leaves
Then surely I can resonate with
A member of my species
Who’s different from me
Even if they tell me
It can’t be done

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 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.

Falling Out Of Your World

I fell out of your world today
And landed in the dirt
I knew the name of every plant
Of every tree and mushroom

You can’t know what this meant to me
This knowledge without thought
In your world, wit is easily won
It’s your solace and your weapon

In my world, it’s like flecks of soil
That pile up with each passing year
It grows slowly and naturally
My mind doesn’t soar through the clouds

I looked up at your world today
You seemed so happy up there
Because you do soar through the clouds
Your mind eats equations for breakfast

You can’t imagine life down here
It’s too slow and too ordinary
For days at a time I do nothing
But soak myself into the soil

But the soil talks to me
Like the clouds talk to you
And from the underground depths
Understanding flows up to me

I know that you love your life
Where the breeze brings you words
And the clouds carry equations
And you can dart everywhere
With a touch of your wings

But I love my life
I have deep roots in the dark places
Water springs up from the soil
And understanding can only happen
By listening to things without voices

I am a thing without a voice
Perhaps that is why I belong down here
And not up where the voice of the wind
Sings unceasing words of knowledge
To people whose heads fill with words

I fell out of your world today
And I thanked the gods of mist and soil
Of the dark and the damp
Of the roots and the trees

Because you may thrive in your world
But to me, it’s a lightning storm in my head
And I belong curled up inside the ground
At the feet of a redwood tree

A Poem About Realness (1999)

In the center of the wood in tangled gnarling knots I sit
In every part of every tree I grow the waiting path
The light that filters through the trees reflecting colors dark and deep
The stars that glimmer through the leaves reflect me just the same

The roots that travel searching deep and ancient through the darkened soil
The smell of earth that tells you more than any sight can say
The deepened grooves inside the bark that guide you winding wondering
The stillness deepness permeates and holds within the path

The moss is dangling from the outer branches of the tallest trees
The higher branches reaching leaves and needles to the sun
The warmth and cool unearthened sound that makes the forest what it is
The paths they take all from one place which in all paths begun

I sing the song that comes from there and blends and sharpens in the trees
That changes still and stays the same and shines in forest light
That twists and turns and follows flying endless into from the path
Where travelers and wanderers may in the end find me

A wanderer might find the path in smallest roots and gnarling trees
The spaces in between the trees might show the path as well
The forest and the stars will show emerging patterns still the same
And if the forest brings you fear, then you have not found me

The ancient stillness of the wood reflected from and through my world
For at the center lies the path and in the path is me
However wild the wind may blow the movement of my path remains
For if you fear the forest’s edge then you have not found me