By Elizabeth Swann

Sundays, indigo and gold
fall across his furrowed brow
as my son follows
smiling four-year-olds
into the sanctuary, his face
tinted in the light
of lead-lined windows.
He holds his ears when we sing
the hymn,
lagging behind
the others, a line of paper dolls
holding hands down the isle.

Be Thou my vision
rises to ceiling, envelops
lit chandeliers. I look around
to see who watches
my odd boy.

The pre-school teachers frown.
He refuses
the mess of finger paints.
Can’t control the scissors. Crayons
veer off the page.
Standing at the classroom door,
I overhear my son explain
the law of gravity
to a blue-eyed girl
clutching a baby doll.
Lustrous curls
bounce as she turns
and runs away.

In sunlight,
my son shields his eyes.
White-lipped waves
rush at us,
the island beach gleaming
like a blister.
Beneath a brilliant umbrella,
pale, he sings
Twinkle, twinkle little star,
his words aloft on the breeze.

Under the hands
of strangers’ children,
damp parapets
rise along the shore,
then with laughter
and footprints, fall, swept
to unknown depths.

My sweet child clings to me,
afraid to dig
his toes into scintillant sand.
His hug, a strangle-hold.

Like light entering
a prism’s eye,
my dreams –
once so clear and bright –
break out psychedelic.
Bent from before into after
diagnosis –

not autism, the therapist insists,
but on the spectrum:
Sensory Integration Disorder.

At last we have a name –
one point of light divides
into a list of vivid terms
I’ve never heard:
bilateral coordination,
vestibular system,
tactile stimulation.

Sensory overload,
heightened fight or flight.

These two I understand.

How many disorders lie
along this diamond edge?

Behind my son’s brown eyes,
lightning nerves, wired live.

A jumbled pile
of puzzle pieces on the floor
glitter like a shattered mirror,
reflecting irradiated days.
On his knees, he must reach
and cross
to assemble the fissured picture.

Five times a day, I brush
his arms and legs.
With one taper-thin finger, he draws
shapes in shaving cream.

Face aglow, he wears
prescribed headphones,
and listens, calmed,
to modulated Mozart.

He takes up violin.
His skinny right arm like a bow
glides back
and forth
across his mid-line
through one more invisible barrier.

The singe
of sleepless nights, fear
a flame.

My pastor’s words,
my mantra.
He will make his way
in the world.

The child’s hand in mine,
we walk today
into a blinding sun.

I remember
my son’s first words,
bye-bye, light.


3 Responses to “Spectrum”

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  2. […] View,” “At The Hospital,” “Rain,” “Casting,” and “Spectrum.” Share this:StumbleUponTwitterFacebookRedditDiggPrintEmailLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first […]

  3. Clarence Eden Says:

    My heart weeps with this. Thank God there is hope and life ahead. When I left the hospital at age 7, the Dr’s told my mother I would never be able to comb my hair. Now I can shave the whole head. 15 yrs later I was exercising in the army with an M1 rifle over my head. Mother thought of me as her “miracle child.” Grace and mercy and joy lie in the future. We just do not know theshape of it. Love you, Clarence

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