Threads (for Autistics Speaking Day, 2011)

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile…
— Paul Laurence Dunbar

One might believe that there is an incongruity
within a doctor who can rescue a young toddler
playing in a sea of vomit inside of a South Indian hut
eviscerated by a village’s cholera outbreak, but yet
finds himself becoming windswept detritus tossed
from coast to coast by a stomach which demands
a constant schedule. One might place
his wide-armed compassion of raising that boy himself
and his Richter scale tremors at finding his office disturbed
as light-and-dark contrast Polaroids, and wonder
if the two men were even the same:

but upon closer inspection,
you will find the same golden threads running
through both men’s arms.

Tug on one of the ends: it will lead
to his youngest daughter, the misfit
of the family. Pull one up in the backlight
of noonday sun which streams through your window
to watch an opaline rainbow running in corkscrew
down its entire length. Pull a little bit harder
and follow its spindly trail: and you will find
a son made out of piano keys and vinyl records,
a German face with an Indian hue.

Now look just to the left of this man and his
threads: and you will see a hardscrabble banshee
with African hair and Irish temper, made out of
stolen sparkle, Cherokee prayers, black feathers, and
words. Notice a forgotten, loose end of the same gold thread
sticking out of her forearm: pull on that thread
and you will find the Harlequin root of her DNA
building engines made out of motley parts
and trying to find Sammy Davis, Jr. when he looks
in the mirror. Walk that thread backwards, and you will find
his mother: a proper AME church matriarch with
diction and grammar stolen from Queen Victoria’s

As you waulk the wool that the threads
run through, listen carefully for the brogue song
that tells who we are, composed out of
encyclopedia pages cited from volumes inside
mind attics and heart chambers. Listen to the son’s rhapsody
of organ pipes, electronic sampled sounds, and the
callouses of wood working fingers that
built the greatest organs on Earth. Listen to the lament
of the banshee, coughing up feathers, rainbows, and
the discontent of the souls out of place that she
builds her poems from. Listen to the hymn
of the matriarch, made out of perfect third and fifth intervals
carrying the proud swell of flawless grammar and clean pages
upon their backs. If you keep listening, you will find the
antiphony of the doctor calling out to cell and gene, bone and blood
to find what spawned the wayward hungry cells that killed his mother, or
the deep-throated tenor guitar and boom-chicka-boom
of the black man mining the wrinkles on the Man in Black’s face
for his own answers.

Hear us, O Children of Gaia,
and harken to our songs, O People of Earth:
we are one tribe,
one motley crew of thread bearers.
We may seem both mean and resplendent by turns,
causing you pause as you watch us walk as
eccentric collections of puzzle pieces carrying veins
of iridescent gold throughout our skin: but do not ask us
to occupy aphotic closet corners with the
cold, throttled throats of your own green fear. Do not ask us
to bisect our puzzle-piece hearts by ripping out the threads
as a sacrifice, extracted treasure without the soil
that it is buried in. And do not ask us
to wear masks, for we are not phantoms: we are made
of the same clay as you are. The sooner you
learn this, the sooner that we can live among you
as siblings bound by soul, spirit, and the signature
of Divine hands: shun us and our imagined strangeness,
and we will all perish together as fools.

Written 10/28/11
© 2011 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
This poem was written as one of my contributions to Autistics Speaking Day, which is November 1. For more information about ASDay, click here. For this poem, I began with my fiance’s grandfather, who was a surgeon and medical missionary serving in Andhra Pradesh, India from the early 1930’s until his death in 1968. After many conversations back and forth, we figured out that his grandfather likely had Asperger Syndrome, which is from whence he gets his autism spectrum traits. I thought I would begin by exploring the surface contradictions of this man, who could show great compassion and empathy and yet experience troubles common to spectrumites such as a greater than average need for routine, predictability, and order. And the poem took flight from there. I hope you enjoyed it.


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About ravenswingpoetry

I am a 38 year old writer from Columbus, OH and the creator of Raven's Wing Poetry. I am a poet, seeker, fellow traveler, and autistic.
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6 Responses to Threads (for Autistics Speaking Day, 2011)

  1. Pingback: Speaking Up on Autistics Speaking Day, 2011 « Woman With Asperger's

  2. That is a really AWE-inspiring poem! And I mean that seriously. It is amazing when we look back and gather the threads that make us who we are. Beautiful!

  3. Thomas Davis says:

    The originality in your poems is startling. Partially your combinations of words juxtaposed against each other lead to the beating of drums and meaning that are different, but partially its how you have processed the universe and come up with, in this poem particularly, a humanity that transcends all difference. I have only started going through your poems, and I am, to say the least, impressed.

  4. Hello Thomas:

    Thank you very much for the sincere compliment. I think at closer inspection, many of us appear to be walking contradictions, but it seems to me that people on the autism spectrum suffer from this perception the most of all. My fiance’s grandfather was, from what I understand, one of the most compassionate men you could ever meet but some of the spectrum qualities made him seem a bit stand-offish However, we as human display many points of connection from one to the next…and I think we tend to be more alike than different.

    Thanks for stopping by.


  5. Heather Walsh says:

    Does this poem come from a source with an ISBN, or any of your poems? I would love for one of my students to present one of your poems for our speech meets, but all poems must come from sources with ISBN numbers. Your poetry is so emotion-packed, real, and expressive!

  6. Thank you Heather. I’m glad you loved the poem and were considering using it. Unfortunately, this poem has only been published on my blog and has never been included in anything with an ISBN number.

    However, some of my other work has been included in anthologies and I would be happy to help in that regard. If you check out my published works page, you’ll see a list of where I’ve been published which should include three of the print anthologies in I’ve been featured.

    Best wishes to you and your student. I completed in an Optimists speech contest in Junior High and it was an amazing experience, so I think your student’s in for a treat. Let me know if I can help in any other way.


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