I chose this week’s poem to highlight the fact that April is not only National Poetry Month but is also National Autism Awareness Month. What better way to heighten our awareness than to feature a poem about a child with autism, written by a poet who is actually the mother of such a child?

I discovered this poet’s work because of her son, who has Autistic Spectrum Disorder, a syndrome on the rise in this country, now estimated to affect 1 in 68 children. I too have kids on the spectrum, and, of course, have written poems about them. “You need to meet Connie Post,” someone once told me after a reading. “She’s been through this too, and she’s an amazing poet.” What I learned when I met her is that Connie is, indeed, a poet of exquisite talent and sensibility. And an amazing mother as well, loving and patient with a 29-year-old son whose disabilities present far greater challenges than those faced by my kids.

I am struck by how the lack of punctuation in this poem throws into sharp relief the quotation marks around the first and last word ever uttered by the speaker’s child, a boy who developed normally for a time but then just—stopped talking at all. Ever again. I like the plain language that, with devastating directness and restraint, tells the story of a whole world of language lost with that one quoted word. And I’m wrenched every time I read it by the line break and image of “just a boy/whose blond hair I combed each morning.”

Connie and I sometimes read together at events that benefit autism organizations like the MIND Institute in Sacramento. At these readings, we know that for certain poems, we must take care not to meet each other’s eyes. This is one of them.

                                                             —Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor

 

Annual Review

We gather in a small room
tables, chairs
half filled notebooks that try to tell your story

Someone new assigned to your case
asks me questions
I have answered a thousand times

No he can’t brush his teeth
No he can’t make his own meals
Yes he tries to make his bed
sometimes he buses his own plates

sometimes he cries
we don’t know why
sometimes he tears his clothes to shreds
–then we buy new ones

One hour and twenty minutes pass
each person at the table
closes their files

I want to tell them
how you said “cheese” once
when you stood at the refrigerator

back then
there were no case managers
no funds to be disbursed

no team meetings

just a boy
whose blond hair I combed each morning
and a silence
that knew which way
we were headed

 

This poem first appeared in And When the Sun Drops (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and is published with permission of the poet.

 

 

connie and sonConnie and Thomas.

A Note from Connie Post about her son: Thomas turned 29 years old on April 20. He was diagnosed when he was 3 years old, but symptoms showed up about at about 15 months. Thomas has profound autism with developmental delays. He’s non-verbal, but can communicate through non-verbal cues, and we try every day to understand his world. Thomas has been in a group home since he was 6. Placing him in the first one, two hours away, was one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever made, but was necessary. Fortunately, when he was about 20, we found a group home closer to our home and Thomas now comes home most weekends.

 

connie jpg.Connie Post is the Poet Laureate Emerita of Livermore, California (2005 to 2009). Her first full-length book, Floodwater (Glass Lyre Press, 2014) won the Lyrebird Award, and her chapbook And When the Sun Drops won the 2012 Aurorean Editor’s Choice Award. Post’s work has appeared in Calyx, Crab Creek Review, The Big Muddy, Slipstream, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Her awards include the Caesura Poetry Award and the Dirty Napkin Cover Prize.

 

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  • Joanna Bressler May 11, 2015 at 5:38 pm

    Elegant poem that reaches into one’s heart. In the picture: beautiful mother, beautiful son. The poem says so much about a silence that is shattering.

    Reply
  • Allegra Silberstein April 28, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    Connie speak with so much honesty, so much grace. I love her work.

    Reply