The gifted nephologist goes to school

It’s all a matter of perspective: how altocumulus seen above the Falls of Clyde promise
song thrushes; strati gliding across the surface of Skomer suggest shearwaters
migrating; and stratocumulus flurrying snow over Stocker’s Lake might be white herons
in flight.

These are the things I think I see when my son reads to me, a dictionary open like the
face of a planet. Pareidolia he reads, p-a-r-e-i-d-o-l-i-a. It means….

It means a teacher’s search for definition. He won’t listen she says. He answers back. He stares
out of the window, watches clouds
. It means seeing synchronicities that may or may not exist in
the things that shape his curiosity: a tornado birthed close to a shopping mall; Jesus’ face
appearing upon a tortilla; the Man in the Moon; the Monkey Tree phenomenon.

Do improbability, angle and atmosphere coalesce in my son as if they are thermals
fomenting cumuli? Does his mind imagine cloud in the same way it invents language?
Iage amage feedage peckage he says scattering seed at chooks, then points to nimbostrati.
Like birds wearing police hats he says. Like Christmas trees walking; or wisps of cirrus, like a
ladybird eating cheese
he says. Like a cloudmother holding her son’s hand.

I wonder what this cloudmother thinks when her cloudson says no one wants to play with
. Does her cloudy heart dissolve too? Does she spill drizzle as she considers genetics
and remembers how, as a lonely girl, she watched while other children played?

I wonder what this cloudmother sees when her cloudson draws a map of the world and
cloudteacher glimpses the fluffy terrains of the UK, Australia, China, Russia and the
Arctic, then says I see mummy helped you with this. Does this cloudson cry torrentially too?
Does he grow, like cumulonimbus, into a storm threatening to break?

Here are other synchronicities: each cloud is an outcast child befriended by a label –
‘gifted’, ‘difficult’, ‘troubled’, ‘trouble’; each cloud exists at the edge of its emotions and
obedience; each cloud knows all there is to know about Palaeontology, Egyptology,
Astronomy and Nephology.

It’s all a matter of perspective: how school isn’t like the Falls of Clyde, Skomer, Stocker’s
Lake or places where clouds are spoken of like propellers, like woodpeckers, like whales; how
school isn’t land upon which people like my son can gather
                                             to stare at heavens illustrated by clouds
                                                      and see more than air and water

Siobhan Harvey is the author of eight books, including the poetry and creative nonfiction collection, Ghosts (Otago University Press, 2021), which was longlisted for the 2022 Ockham Book Awards. She was awarded the 2021 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award for Poetry, the 2020 New Zealand Society of Authors Peter & Dianne Beatson Fellowship, the 2019 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems, the 2019 Robert Burns Poetry Prize and the 2013 Kathleen Grattan Prize. Her work was longlisted for 2022 Bridport Memoir Prize (UK) and 2019 Australian Book Review Peter Porter Poetry Prize, has been placed in the Landfall Essay Prize on numerous occasions, and has been runner-up in the New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Prize (2015 and 2014), the 2012 Kevin Ireland Poetry Prize and the 2012 Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize (Aus).

Recently her work has been published in journals and anthologies such as Acumen, Asia Literary Review (HK), Fourth Genre (US) and Mslexia (UK), as well as the anthologies Feminine Divine: Voices of Power & Invisibility (Cynren US, 2019), Out Here: An Anthology of LGBTQIA+ Writers from Aotearoa (Auckland University Press, 2021), and Strong Words 2: The Best of the Landfall Essay Competition (Otago University Press, 2021).

Presently she's a senior lecturer in creative writing at the Centre for Creative Writing, Auckland University of Technology, where she holds a PhD in Creative Writing.

Siobhan comments: 'This poem was inspired by a game my Gifted son loved to play after school. He and I lay on our backs at the top of a climbing frame in a park and stared up at the firmament. There, we gave a pareidolic definition to each passing cloud. My son loved this game because it allowed him to engage his mind in the kind of creativity, individuality and acuity school and its conformist strictures were attempting to cleanse him of. The landscape in the poem is English and Welsh, but the education system examined could be universal. In Aotearoa New Zealand, for instance, in our humble experience, it remains true that the education system is designed to reach and teach 90 per cent of its pupils. In this, as a parent, I have battled underfunding, academic and parental ignorance and an academic bureaucracy that deems programmes for the neurodiverse and their teaching optional. In advocating for inclusive education for my son, I've spent tens of thousands of dollars to provide him with a teacher aide, been labelled by establishments as "pushy" and "trouble", set up and run parenting support groups and fought for years to gain justice for horrendous physical, verbal and emotional bullying my son received due to his neurodiversity. Also, through writing poems, newspaper articles and the like, I continue to share our story, trusting that it will help shine a light on the unnecessary difficulties, traumas and struggles the neurodiverse and their parents continue to encounter when the children attend school.'

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