Color (a modest plea)

by Nicole Nicholson

“It [autism] delays the most — delays or impairs for life —
the most human thing we have, which is our ability to look
into each other’s eyes and feel that other person’s existence
and what might be going on in their mind, and to empathize
with them. That is denied — largely denied — to children with autism.”

– Robert MacNeil, as quoted in the Autism Now series

Crack open my veins, and tell me
that I don’t feel. Perhaps you might miss
the sparkle, the stardust, or the
spectrums that hop a ride on the backs of my blood cells
once they have leaped out of my DNA: but you won’t miss
the scarlet oozing from ripped-open wounds,
the black from the feathers that I keep pulling out of my throat,
or the clouded crystalline from the rain that sometimes
falls from my eyes. Look carefully: if you hold
a droplet up to the light, a rainbow might emerge
in spite of your disbelief.

Please understand something. Autism
is not a vacuous body, a carnal vessel devoid
of any essence. It was said that Martin Luther made that mistake
500 years ago, declaring what was likely an autistic boy to be
an empty CPU with a demonic operating system. There is
a soul, rising and sparkling up from the depths
where chakras glow and pulsate: and from there
is where the jubilation, rage, and tears may come. Our veins
are simply stripped open: look closely, and you will see
the circuitry hum and glisten.

And because we are stripped open, we also know
when you glow, when you throb, and when you
rage. Some of us are blind to the colors, and some of us
only see bold print. Some of us wear suits of armor,
shutting off receivers and retracting antennae
to make sure that we don’t detonate from signal overload.
A meltdown means all circuits are busy.
A lack of eye contact means we are crystalline
and breakable.

And if we are all a spectrum, then I am amethyst.
Royal. Aubergine. Keep listening. There is a little boy in Brooklyn,
enchanted by lampposts, who is sable and emerald
just like the giant streetlight gods that he admires. There is
a livestock expert in Colorado who is denim, red, and black
like the shirts she has carefully embroidered with cowboy language. I know
a poet in Georgia who can become carmine, sienna, or umber
like the mud beneath the feet of its millions of souls. And the
man that I love is black and white like the organ keys
that he pulls his music from. Now, tell me
that we don’t have color.

Please understand that we are transparent.
We burn and grow lucent by our faith, not by your sight,
for sight can be blind and we kindle and flare under
the cover of your eyes’ darkness. If not tempered, we might
absorb the whole world in our veins,
swallow skyscrapers into our bones,
and purloin every one of your gazes into our own: but it would all
be too much. Because of this, understand
that we cannot afford to expand without bursting our skins.
I will still watch you laugh, rage and weep: and when you do,
crack open my veins. You will see every reflection of yourself.
Yes, crack open my veins.
And tell me that I don’t feel.

About the Author: Nicole Nicholson is an adult with Asperger’s who prose appears at Woman With Asperger’s, and whose poetry appears at Raven’s Wing Poetry. Color (a modest plea) appears here by permission.

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9 thoughts on “Color (a modest plea)

  1. […] folks! My poem, “Color (A Modest Plea)” was republished at the brand new Autism and Empathy website today. The website is dedicated to […]

  2. usethebrainsgodgiveyou says:

    Awesome.Holy…

  3. Holy is right.
    I felt this to my core.
    It ripped me open the way I am
    when I hear of any suffering
    of my fellow sentient beings.

  4. Sunfell says:

    Powerful. Fascinating. And yes, holy.

    I am amethyst and sapphire. Peridot and emerald. Logical, cool, true.

  5. […] the fact that, y'know, according to mainstream media, she really shouldn't be able to do so.The second post is a beautiful poetic response to Robert MacNeil's comments about empathy in autism by Nicole […]

  6. Devon Alley says:

    This is an amazing poem. It’s a little above my daughter’s head at the moment (she’s only 11 years old) but I want to save this and share this with her when she’s just a little older. I think it will help her feel a lot less alone and misunderstood just when she’ll likely need it the most. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  7. Wow. Thank you everyone. I am really humbled and honored by your comments on this poem. It’s my hope that this work, plus this entire website, plus works by autistic people help the world understand us even better — and especially help dispel the myths about us, including the “lack of empathy” myth that is commonly believed.

    -Nicole

  8. Tricia says:

    I am not sure I have the words I need to respond to this. It is perfection. There have been times when the only way I could explain a feeling was through color. A hungover morning on a road trip had me trying to explain why I said “everyone is so gray today”.

    There is a line in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s that has always hit me like a ton of bricks. “The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of.”

    I don’t personally associate red with anything bad, but my colors change daily. Today I am brown, like chocolate, smooth and mellow. I may be yellow tomorrow, if I sleep well and wake up energized and excited that it is Friday. I may be blue…not a sad blue, but an iridescent peacock blue that will have me preening and hovering near every mirror I pass. I could be any color, though I am rarely pink without a man in my life. 😉

    I have been black — obsidian — shiny and cold. I’ve been there twice in my life. During the first, I nearly took my own life. During the second, I recognised the blackness coming over me and sought help.

    Nicole, you are both gifted and a gift. I am so grateful that you shared.

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