Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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I have become a broken student of what people say
When they mean something other than what they say.
I have been dealing with some things meant pregnant.
God gives all sorts of gifts meant an autistic daughter.
Trying to get centered meant finding a halfway house.
A little time off meant walking to the police station to
Hand over the rifle he had spent the whole night with,
Staring at the barrel, a shoelace attached to the trigger.
And the police officer on duty at eight in the morning,
Who oddly had served in the same platoon in a war,
Gently took the rifle and checked the safety and came
Around the desk and wrapped his arm around the guy
And walked him down to the little park by the library,
Where they sat and talked for hours. Jarheads jawing,
That was the phrase the policeman used when he told
Me the story, and he said it with a smile, but he knew
And I knew that what he said isn’t at all what he said.
As a parent of an autistic child, I was offended by Brian Doyle’s “What People Say When They Mean Something Other Than What They Say” [January 2011]. I understand the poem’s intent is to read more deeply into what people are going through, but making an implied comparison between having an “autistic daughter” and being in a halfway house or contemplating suicide is ignorant at best. Although raising a child with autism has its challenges, most are not that different from the challenges of raising a neurotypical child. Many children with autism possess traits that make them exceptional. Doyle needs to make sure he knows what he is talking about before he writes.
But, I say politely, I wasn’t making such a comparison. I was trying to listen to what people said to me, and that was said to me. I was trying to write down what’s under the words people use.