Brick (New Version)

Nothing is yellow here. I am surrounded
by brownstone giants poking square holes
in a gray cloud ceiling. I haven’t seen
a cyclone in years, only twin smoke pillars of grief
pouring from dying concrete towers.

Grief always calls you home.
It sleeps in your ribcage with your red time bomb,
blocks an intersection inside your throat.
But Louboutin heels aren’t ruby slippers,
and no spinning wind steals you away
from horizons bruised by airplane-burnt brick.

Last night, I dreamed of cement
becoming brick. Yellow brick.
I followed it right out of Manhattan,
past every sky-studded cement fable.
Gray gave way to green; car, to colored horse;
my high heels, crusted in red gemstones.
I curled up inside that dream, but it broke
apart: I resurfaced, floating in my bed ocean,
stinging dream dripping from my eyes.

The Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man
left me long ago, aboard a midnight train
to…what? Heaven, Hell, oblivion, Bardo? I don’t know.
I just know that I may never see it.
Hell, I’m older than you, older
than the worn printed paper in your hands, older
than the young woman that pretended to be me
across celluloid frame faces.
I’ve wanted to go back to Oz for years.
But the cyclone never comes.

Revised 7/22/14
© 2014 Nicole Nicholson. All rights reserved.


This is a revision of “Brick”, a poem I had originally written four years ago for a We Write Poem prompt.

This revision was the result of suggestions made to me yesterday in the first of ten summer residency morning poetry workshops, which I’ll be attending over the next two weeks at Ashland University as part of my MFA studies.

I had worked with our workshop leader before as part of their weekend poetry workshops, which my fiancé and I attended last November. Our workshop leader had called me a “poet of excess” after seeing my work last fall. Of course, one’s strength (as we discussed as a group in both the November workshops and in these summer residency workshops) can become one’s weakness — in my case, it’s packing my poems with image and detail, putting in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. So the focus here, and the majority of suggestions I received from the others, were to cut back in terms of images and soft, passive language in the poem.

So, here’s the new version. Compare, contrast, and let me know what y’all think.


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#BoycottAutismSpeaks: Why I Protest Autism Speaks

This is my latest #boycottautismspeaks virtual protest. For those who don’t know, I have chosen, along with other autistic people and those who love them, to stop buying from businesses who financially support Autism $peaks.

But wait a minute, Nicole, you might be saying. You’re autistic. What gives?

To put it simply, Autism Speaks is an organization that pretends to act in the best interest of autistic people and their families, but does not. A few fast facts about Autism Speaks should illuminate the issue further (quoted largely from the Boycott Autism Speaks website):

  • Autism Speaks’ senior leadership fails to include a single autistic person. The organization has repeatedly refused to include autistic people in its leadership since its inception. It would be difficult to imagine the NAACP without African-American leadership, or the NOW without female leadership…so how can an organization which claims to benefit autistic people exist without autistic leadership, and insist that it can speak for autistic people? Additionally, the first, last, and only advisory board member on the autism spectrum, John Elder Robison, resigned in protest over their inflammatory rhetoric that compares autistic people to kidnapping victims, amongst other things. (You can read his post about his resignation here). Which leads me to the next point…
  • Autism Speaks’ fundraising efforts — and use of those funds — are problematic. First of all, the organization’s fundraising efforts consistently use pity-based appeals and messages that are dangerous, prejudicial, and inflammatory. Autism Speaks continues to persistently portray the lives of autistic people as tragedies, and us as tragic burdens — this latest video of theirs is one such example. Secondly, very little of their funds are used to actually help autistic people — only 4% of funds donated to Autism Speaks are reinvested in services and supports for autistic people and their families, only 1% of Autism Speaks’ research budget goes towards research on service quality, and less than one-quarter of 1% goes towards research on the needs of autistic adults. Additionally, Autism Speaks fundraising diverts funds that are badly needed by local autistic charities towards themselves, which strips away these charities’ abilities to serve their local communities. And speaking of communities…
  • Autism Speaks hijacks the public discussion on autism and presents themselves as the “Harold Hill”-type solution. This is especially problematic when it presents itself as “serving” or “helping” to social groups recently beginning to address autism, such as the African-American community. An example of this is their alliance with the National Black Church Initiative announced last year and its Global Autism Public Health initiative, which has involved outreach to public health organizations in India and Bangladesh. However innocuous their efforts may seem, they become most problematic when laced with their pity- and fear-based messages about autism and autistic people. I, as an African-American autistic woman, resent being presented as a “tragic burden” to anyone, but in particular to members of my own community.
  • Autism Speaks has a history of supporting dangerous fringe movements that threaten the lives and safety of both the autism community and the general public. If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve probably heard by now about claims that vaccines cause autism, which  have no basis (check out the CDC’s statement on this here). However, as the Boycott Autism Speaks site put it, “the anti-vaccine sentiments of Autism Speaks’ founders are well-documented in mainstream media”. The organization announced it support what it terms “environmental research” according to this New York Times article — such research most certainly includes vaccines. Additionally, it has supported the Judge Rotenberg Center, a facility which has been documented to use electric shock against its students.

(Much thanks to Boycott Autism Speaks for the information I referenced above. You can read more here.)

Being autistic is part of my life, part of my existence, and part of my art. I’m an artist, and I will use my voice to speak up for what is right. I hope this post has served to illuminate why I speak up. For myself, my fiancé, my friends, and anyone else who is autistic.

If you’re interested in joining the virtual protest, there are more details on the Boycott Autism Speaks Facebook page.

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Now on Instagram!

Howdy folks! I am now on Instagram. Check out my first Instagram poem below — hopefully the first of many experiments in micropoetry.

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My Poetry on BBC Radio 3

Greetings, readers!

I was invited by Emma Kingsley of BBC Radio 3 to be part of an episode of “Between the Ears” called “How Was Your Day, Joe?”. In mid-May, she interviewed me at WCBE Radio in Columbus, Ohio through a high-speed connection from England. Kingsley asked me questions about communication and autism and asked me to read a few of my poems. This program aired on June 7 on BBC Radio 3: you can listen to the archived show here. I was honored to be a part of this program and to be given an opportunity to share my experiences and art to help people better understand autism.

Specifically, Kingsley centered the program around a question which she asked Joe every day but with which he found frustration – “how was your day, Joe?”. Kingsley asked autistic people to provide insight on why answering the question would be so difficult for Joe. She also interviewed clinical psychologist Andrew McDonnell, speech therapist Robert Bell, Simon Baron-Cohen (Director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University), and Delia Barton, Michael’s mother. Excerpts of two of my poems, “Glass and Concrete” and “Code“, were played during the broadcast.

I also wrote a “Behind the Interview” blog post about the broadcast and additional thoughts on autism and communication. Go over to Woman With Asperger’s to check it out.

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Issue 2, Summer 2014: The River, Within Us and Without Us


Red Wolf Journal Issue 2 is now live! Featuring cover art by Angela Weddle (along with one of his poems), and poetry by John Michael Flynn, Uma Gowrishankar, Dah Helmer, Ann Howells, Kristina Jensen, Joan Leotta, Christopher Oak Reiner, Marian J. Veverka, Robert Walton, Will Wells, Martin Willitts Jr., and Barbara Yates Young. Tawyna Smith and I had the privilege of editing and putting this issue together, and we’re proud to present it to you.

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Fly Away Home (For Maya Angelou)

For now we see through a glass, darkly;
but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known.
–1 Corinthians 13:12 (King James Version)

The Queen has gone home.
Her day is done, is done.
There is an outline, an umbra
around the place where her light
passed through the veil.
Words spill out of pockets
dimpled in the lace;
We rush, candy-eyed children
at piñata treasures and find
that each of these words,
her words,
are a tiny prism through which
still more light passes.

This brilliant bird has now flown.
Her day is done, is done
and we marvel at how a name
can be a double-faced coin:
illusion to the Hindu,
but lucent to the hearer
with a tugged and tattered ear
upon which feathers hang
in hundred hues.
Feathers iron, drop into
a mighty wide river and
carry our flight-tired bird home,
cage-less and free.

Marguerite Johnson has gone home.
Her day is done, is done.
I peer through the veil dividing
blindness from sight,
world from world,
and hope to see Maya staring back.
Instead, I see my twelve year-old self
trying on her words like wings –
“and still I rise”.
I squint, change my vision’s lenses
just long enough to see gilded cage bars
vanish into nothing.

Written 5/28/14
© 2014 Nicole Nicholson. All rights reserved.


This came out of me. After I wrote the short blurb for Red Wolf Poems about Maya Angelou, I felt I wanted to say something, for Dr. Angelou. I was horribly and painfully mute when Nelson Mandela passed — the words just would not come. Praise God, not this time.

Maya is literally one of the first reasons I began writing poetry. I was twelve when I discovered her poems. She led me to Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Paul Laurence Dunbar…which led me to Galway Kinnell, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Williams, Patricia Smith, Barbara Fant, Lord Byron, and Jim Morrison, just to name a few. She set me on the path to words, and I am forever grateful for that.


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#MyWritingProcess Blog Hop: Autism and Poetry as an Act of Translation

First of all, I’d like to thank Michael Scott Monje, Jr. for inviting me to participate in this blog hop. Michael and his predecessor in the hop, Jeannie Davide-Rivera, spoke of their writing processes as autistic individuals. I am glad that I have the opportunity to speak about how this works for me as a poet.

On what project(s) are you working?

When I initially saw this question, I was not sure how to answer it. As a poet, I have mostly focused on individual poems without really seeing or planning them to be in any sort of collection or cohesive manuscript. I’ve released three self-published chapbooks: two which were not organized on any central theme, and the last one, Novena (remixed), for which poems were selected to fit within a loose central theme of “poem as prayer”.

I began to think in terms of broader story lines or collections sometime in 2010. Since then, I have written poems for a few different themes or story arcs, some of which are locked away on my hard drive and have not seen the light of day yet. These themes and arcs include:

  • “Dead Letter Office” – a working title for a project in which I write epistle-style poems to correspond with deceased famous or historical figures…and they write back. I’ve crafted fictional conversations between John of Patmos and Nero in which I butt into the conversation. Part of that project includes a conversation with Adele Florence Nicholson (a Victorian-era English poet who lived in India and wrote under the pen name Lawrence Hope). And, there is also an extended conversation with Jim Morrison. Because I tend to work on projects piecemeal and as I become inspired, I haven’t done much with this one in the last year. But it is there, and I know at some point I’ll pick it up again.
  • “Steelville Chronicles” – I am very excited about this project. I’ve also been writing poems for it since about 2010, and this is a bit more complex than DLO. “Steelville” is a fictional small Midwestern steel town based on Middletown, Ohio where I spent my teenaged years and where I graduated from high school. There are several characters in this universe, including:
    • Nick Williams, a biracial queer autistic male writer in his mid-thirties;
    • Rachel McCoy, a young autistic white female artist who befriends Nick in junior high (but dies in car accident a few weeks before their graduation);
    • Sebastian “Spike” Morrison, an African-American punk musician who is Nick’s first crush; and,
    • Helen R. “Aanteekwa” Jones, an elderly autistic African-American woman with clairvoyant capabilities.

Lately I’ve mostly been creating story arcs involving Helen, or as she is now known, Aanteekwa. Aanteekwa is a Miami word which means “crow”, and she was given this name in a poem series I wrote last summer which I’m calling the Great River Visions series. She is also in another series of poems I have been writing since late October of 2013, which for lack of a better title I’m referring to as the Digital Purgatory Series. In Digital Purgatory, she enters a virtual digital world and becomes trapped there – throughout her journey, she meets new friends and together they seek to escape while avoiding destruction by a super-powerful artificial intelligence which calls itself JHVH.

How does your work differ from others in the genre?

That’s a good question. The best thing that I can tell you is that I see myself as a storyteller with a camera mind, My poetry tends to be rather lengthy at times and expansive – recently in a poetry workshop our workshop leader called me a “poet of excess”. When I’m writing, I feel as if I’m trying to catch every detail so that I do not lose it.

Why do you write what you do?

I have always strived to communicate in some way, shape, or form – if nothing else, to express myself in detailed and expansive ways when simple speech will not do. I feel that we all have something valuable which needs to be released into the world, and I am no different.

I discovered poetry when I was 12 years old, and I found that the written word was a natural mode of expression for me. Language has always been a natural fascination of mine, and my desire to communicate has manifested itself through poetry in storytelling, lyrical expression, and verbal portraits.

Some of what generates my poetry from inside my mind and heart are products of what I have observed or result from my own personal experiences. Pop culture, particularly music, has left a very strong impression on me, so it tends to leak out into my poetry. Additionally, I’m fascinated by speculative fiction — namely Star Trek and Doctor Who — so some elements of these have found their way into my poems as well. In fact, the Digital Purgatory series was inspired by reading Michael’s novel The Mirror Project. I wanted to explore ideas such as: what exactly constitutes “reality”, where does humanity end and transhumanity begin, the distance between an artist’s self and their creation, and how humanity’s actions and a technological singularity could bring about an end to humanity — at the very least, humanity existing in physical, fleshly bodies as we do now. I also wanted to explore these ideas using an autistic non-white protagonist and telling the story entirely in verse — similar to how poet Vikram Seth wrote The Golden Gate, except my verse is more of the free verse sort and more loosely structured than his. Truthfully, some of what I’ve written probably borders on flash fiction — but I’ll worry about classification later.

How does your writing process work?

I am a primarily a visual thinker, so I tend to “see” the poem happening (scenery, events, details, etc.) in my head first. Them, I find the language to describe what I am seeing to convert it into a poem (draft or finished product). This, in essence, an act of translation I perform every time I write. Most of my poems come out as either completed works or highly developed first drafts which need some minor revisions to make them complete.

With my method of composition, I am often picking out and showing the reader fine details, or trying to find extraordinary ways to describe what might otherwise be ordinary. Many of us who studied poetry were taught to do that very thing anyway in metaphor and concrete imagery, but I try to take this to a whole new level. I know, however, that as I grow as a poet, one of my goals is to be more selective in the details I choose in order to create the sort of effect I desire in my poems.

Next Monday (May 26)

Next week, poet Lucas Scheelk will be sharing his thoughts on the same questions. I invited Lucas in the hop to include more autistic poets in the discussion of process and creation.

Also, I wanted to mention Barking Sycamores, a journal founded by I and my fiancé to showcase neurodivergent (autistic, ADHD, bipolar, etc.) poetic voice as well as add to the discussion about neurodivergence and the craft of poetics. Poems by both Michael and Lucas have been featured in Issue 1. I invite you to not only read their work but to check out the rest of Issue 1.

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issue two, “alchemies”, is live!


The Cover of Issue 2 of CSHS!

Howdy folks!

Just wanted to let you know…I have art in this issue of CSHS! I have a piece, “Fireflies” which made the cover and another piece, “A Lamp Unto My Feet” inside. They’re digitally manipulated photos. Want to know more? Go read the issue!

Originally posted on CSHS:

Now that the April frenzy is over, we finally had time to… well, what do you do after you get your ducks in a row? Knock them over? Feed them bread crumbs? Whatever it is, we managed to do it this weekend, and muscle through to get Issue Two live. This is our first themed issue, on the subject “Alchemies”, so we weren’t sure what to expect; but the submissions pile was full of pleasant surprises and interpretations on the theme, with settings from the fantastic to the ordinary and styles from the conversational to the ecstatic. We also got visual art submissions, which we were thrilled to see, and hope those will continue in the future.

Please click the “current issue” button at the top of the page to get to the works by, *ahem*, Sylvia Ashby, Susan Chast, Gabrielle Freeman, Nicole Nicholson, Sara Norja, Francine Rubin, Scott…

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Do You See the Stars?

The room dissolved, bloomed
night as blue-black blood and
rain dashes sprinting to Earth and
slapping shadow-stained pavement.

Continue reading

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Written on the Wall

Let’s start with what you do know,
Aanteekwa said to the machine.
Give me a basic definition of thumos.

Almost immediately the machine
replied: The ancient Greeks understood
it to mean passion, spiritedness, or urge,
and connected it with breath and blood.
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Aanteekwa stared at the machine,
the cube-shaped box in the center
of the room. The cave paintings and
chilled white walls vanished, blotted out
by its blue-light staring her blind
with single-cell octagon vision.
Continue reading

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