Considering the Autistic Boy as a Cloud

1: Cumulus

The body is a nest alive with new song.
The brain is fluent in ghost.
The tongue is rich with poetry.
The arms come open to embrace.
The head comes full of questions and frightening insight.
The fingers that quicken keyboard, building block and book.
The skin that’s sensitive and sore.
All that shape, soul, creation and caesura.
All that softness, halation and omniscience.


2: Cumulonimbus

The body is a hive buzzing with electricity.
The brain is fluent in storm.
The tongue is slick with blue-bladed invective.
The fists come clenched and swinging.
The head comes crashing against bench-top and floor.
The fingers that intrigue power-socket, toaster and flame.
The skin that’s blistered, bruised and scarred.
All that mettle, spleen, spit and fire.
All that turbulence, charge and disease.

Siobhan Harvey is the author of the poetry collection Lost Relatives (Steele Roberts, 2011) and the book of literary interviews Words Chosen Carefully: New Zealand Writers in Discussion (Cape Catley, 2010). She’s also the editor of Our Own Kind: 100 New Zealand Poems about Animals (Random House, 2009). Recently, her poems have been published in Asheville Poetry Review (US), Evergreen Review (US), Five Poem Journal (Ned), LandfallMeanjin (Aus), Poetry New ZealandStand (UK), Structo (UK) and Tuesday Poem. She’s the poetry editor of Takahē and coordinator of New Zealand National Poetry Day. She was runner-up in 2012 Dorothy Porter Prize for Poetry (Australia), 2012 Kevin Ireland Poetry Competition, 2011 Landfall Essay Prize and 2011 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, and shortlisted for 2012 Janet Frame Memorial Award. As part of the 25 New Zealand Poets Project, her poet’s page can be found on The Poetry Archive (UK).

Harvey comments: ‘To parent a child with autism, Asperger's or autism spectrum disorder is a journey through an often frightening, perplexing yet miraculous hinterland. My son was 8 years old before he received a clear diagnosis. Before that his fixations with the esoteric such as with nephology and his inability to conventionally assimilate amongst his peers were treated as wilfulness and/or weirdness, even by some of his school teachers, even in the supposed enlightened times in which we live. As his parents, my partner and I have felt (continue to feel) infinitely protective of our son and frustrated by the paucity of assistance and recognition for children like him.

‘Poetry is driven by emotional thrust. In the manner in which children with autism, Asperger's or ASD are treated, here was a subject I was passionate about. And, as an author, my modus operandi for examining issues which motivate me is to write them out. So I originated the idea of “Considering the Autistic Boy as a Cloud” (as title/poem and motif) when it struck me that my son’s connection with reading and deciphering the clouds turned him, in society’s eyes, into something akin to a cloud—detached from an understood cultural “geography”; isolated; peripheral; peculiar. I didn’t want to censor myself from writing the challenging stuff; but I did want to contextualise it within the wider body of amazing, fascinating and extraordinary stuff. This poem is part of a cycle that considers the autistic boy in thirteen different ways, each symbolised by the primary delineations which compose the taxonomy of clouds. Some of these poems, such as “Stratus”, have been published in New Zealand literary magazines already.’

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