Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Geometry and autism

We do not easily describe what goes on inside our own heads and have still greater difficulty seeing into the minds of others.  Pennsylvania poet Barbara Crooker uses images from geometry to help us to see into autism. 

     Autism Poem: The Grid   by Barbara Crooker

     A black and yellow spider hangs motionless in its web,
     and my son, who is eleven and doesn't talk, sits
     on a patch of grass by the perennial border, watching.
     What does he see in his world, where geometry
     is more beautiful than a human face?
     Given chalk, he draws shapes on the driveway:
     pentagons, hexagons, rectangles, squares.
     The spider's web is a grid,
     transecting the garden in equal parts.

     Sometimes he stares through the mesh on a screen.
     He loves things that are perforated:
     toilet paper, graham crackers, coupons
     in magazines, loves the order of the tiny holes,
     the way the boundaries are defined. And in real life
     is messy and vague. He shrinks back to a stare,
     switches off his hearing. And my heart,
     not cleanly cut like a valentine, but irregular
     and many-chambered, expands and contracts,
     contracts and expands.

"Autism Poem:  The Grid" is found in Crooker's prize winning collection Radiance (Word Press, 2004).  Also available is Garrison Keillor reading it aloud on the Writer's Almanac  (7 Nov 2005).


  1. Barbara's poems so often take my breath away, and this poem is no exception. Masterful in the way the first stanza--so full of objective terms--prepares and yet doesn't prepare the reader for the very personal ending.

    Pat Valdata

  2. Thanks, Pat, for dropping by to comment. I heartily agree with you about the power of Barbara Crooker's poetry.