When I was a child,
I looked under molding leaves
and saw many-legged monsters;
I looked in the dusty canyons of runnelled bark
and saw fairy jewels;
I looked through the spaces between clouds
and saw coiled and smoking dragons;
I touched the silky grain of weathered deadfalls,
and smelled the woodsmoke of ancient caravan camps;
I walked on warm rough sandstone
and felt the slow breath of the earth giving me vertigo.
I listened to the call of a meadowlark
and felt my heart twist and tears prick my eyes.
I listened to a frog chorus late on a muggy night
and heard layer on layer of polyphonic bells.
I laid down beside the grassy bank of a stream so pure and silent
that I believed it flowed straight from Heaven,
and my heart eased open like a flower.
All that still happens to me,
but only when I go away; when I go apart:
It’s then that I see patterns within patterns,
In a single-veined leaf or brilliant drop of water;
In the curved reflection in a frog’s eye;
In a beaded spiderweb in the mist;
In polliwogs that look like animated gray mud;
In the tiny lenses under the feet of waterskaters;
In the shining threads of milkweed pods and moth cocoons.
It’s then that I hear layers of sound
In the cascading drone of cicadas in the trees;
In the dozy buzz of flies between alpine stones below the wind;
In the ruffling patter of raindrops on dry desert dust.
It’s then that I smell scents braiding through space
In the shrewd, haunting resin of sagebrush under a cloudy sky;
In the heady, lazy balsam of a pine forest in the sun;
In the cool, open smell of summer snow drifting down shady gullies;
In the warm, rocking-chair smell of driftwood on a desert riverbank.
But when I stay; when I can’t go away;
It’s then that I see
layers of gray scum on once-white snow,
piled in strip mall parking lots;
drooping wires like buzzing traps,
tangled under the eaves of graceless houses;
neglected crumbs like grimy glitter,
laminated in the sticky corners of fast-food floors;
drifts of scarred and crumpled trash like cardboard ghosts,
shivering in shabby back-door stairwells.
Images that warp the light,
welding it into a grim glaze on my corneas;
an ugly plug in my tear ducts:
A malignant twist; a brutal bend in my belief that beauty ever was.
It’s then that I hear
sirens, and bus brakes, and car horns;
jack hammers, and back-up alarms, and garbage truck hoists;
jets overhead, and car stereos, and unmuffled mufflers;
card readers beeping, and timers squealing, and security doors shrieking.
Sounds that subjugate the air in my ears;
shafts that shatter the silence and splinter my serenity;
swollen pricks of pure noise that pin me down, and penetrate against my will;
barking and howling, panting and whining:
A mechanized Wild Hunt; a manifold horror straight out of Hell.
It’s then that I smell
hot asphalt, and engine oil, and diesel fumes;
swimming pool chlorine, and burning rubber, and gasoline;
acetone, and ammonia, and melting brake pads;
decaying meat, and cheap perfume, and moldy bread;
cigarette smoke, and dryer sheets, and disinfectant;
stale cooking oil, and greasy cardboard, and musty mop-water.
Smells that slide and swell down my throat;
odors that worm their way up my sinuses until they bump into my brain;
parasitic stenches that chew their way along each limbic longitude,
gulping down every good scent I ever smelled;
leaving behind a glob of memory-snot:
A ghastly miasma; a lingering reek pitilessly wedged in my nose.
It’s then that I’m pinned down; cornered; brought to bay—
by every ordinary day.
A powerful poem about imagination, the value of solitude, the experience of nature, and the separation between an autistic and the rest of society.