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1 June 2015

Jonathan Andrews’ poetry recounts a lived experience of autism – a perspective, which is too often ignored in favour of second-person narratives of what an autistic person seems to be thinking or feeling. His short, evocative poems convey a powerful expression of disabling experience.

photo of two the author jonathan andrews pictured from below

Jonathan Andrews

"I love poetry in-and-of-itself, for its lyrical genius, obscure (and at times obtuse!) technical rules, and its imagist qualities. I’ve written poetry since I was very young, on a myriad of different topics.

I’m also politically active regarding disability/autism  and serve on three Advisory Boards for graduate employment including Great with Disability, UK charity Ambitious About Autism, and the SHAPE Project run by the National Autistic Society and the University of York.

I’ve also worked with My Plus Consulting and Employability, written a pamphlet on Autism in the Workplace, worked with Creative Future and Burgess Autistic Trust, and regularly blog on autism and disability issues. 

I view poetry as an extension of this activism – it’s another way to spread my message, raise awareness and ‘Form afresh/New truths from old malignant lies’ (a quote from my prizewinning poem, ‘Creativity’ published in Hyperlexia)."

The Autism Manuals

Winner of Bronze Award at King’s College, London competition judged by Ruth Padel

Omniscient Bibles, resting on the shelf;
Professionals, professing prophecy.
The silver-lined tongue-speaking Babel-shrieks
Of disparate expert voices, desperate
To practice preaching; preaching practice to
Practitioners, harvesting their chosen field.

No sun-blessed crops, no heaven-manna here,
Only congealing mud, littered with cracks;
Where once green shoots sprung up – now plucked and drained,
Now thistles, summoned, spring amidst thick air;
Some Enoch; some autumnal choking breeze
Heralding some man-child, winter-born.

Fables of Babylon: Demonic husks;
Abominable mothers; Seven years
Abominable luck; some Martian race
Whose ranks do not permit Venusians.
The bottomless pit’s already snared enough;
In tenses past these grandiose worlds must stay.

©​ Jonathan Andrews

 

Refrigerator Mother

My mother was a fridge, a theory goes. A maid of Ice,
Uncaring and unfeeling, never taking time
To love, or share, or care, whose idea of comfort was a brisk “There, there”
Before speeding out the door. 

I bristled at her wounding stroke; it left my skin red-raw.
She cleaved her glacial body to my skin
And drew me into a straightjacketed
Embrace of tight neglect. I’ve always found
That theory rather contradictory:
She cared so little that she held me close,
So close that nobody else could; and then, 
When she’d gone to that effort, ignored me?

But then, that theory’s rotten to the core.
It’s true that, like a fridge, my mum 
Keeps me well-stocked with food. But its ‘hard truths’
End there.

My mother was a lamp amongst the dark.
A guiding lantern thrusting ever-forth
And dripping molten wax to light the path.
When no one cared, she furiously blazed
And singed the husks of those Siberian hearts 
Who told her there was nothing to be done.

She held practitioners hostage to her flames
To give me help, and hope. She fought a war
To set my star as high as it could fly.
To strike my match and kindle all my love
She self-immolated, and threw herself
Into a life of charring, grinding work
So that she could be there to watch me blaze.

She was the Morning Star that never fell.
The vespers so bright-burning that
The evening hid away; she drew the stars
To light my pith-black earth. Her waxen wings 
Didn’t mount above her reach; instead she cried 
“One more unto the breach!” and charged, 
A righteous fury running through her veins.

And often I would rest within her warm embrace;
My eyes would melt, her heart would make me whole.
Now, I’m an ember sprung from that incinerating lamp.

So think again before you dub her cold.

©​ Jonathan Andrews

 

Mistranslation

Words, words, words
Pour from the mouth.
Misinferred,
They fall on a deaf mind.

Bridges, pathways, electrons
Scramble to respond.
They hastily package
A reciprocal song.

But the tune is turgid and the music’s malformed and the singer is slurred and restraint retreats
And where one little word would suffice you impose milliards
Evermore intricate, evermore elongated, evermore indecipherable;
Gehenna’s maw is grinning wide: They’re lost in the crashing waves of a Stygian cascade and have to ask
“What?”

So you try it again.
Bit better this time.
But it’s still a hard slog
To neutralise 
The mismatched signs.

And you try so-so-hard now
To flower your words.
But now meaning cowers,
Slashed by secateurs.

So you’re quiet. 
Because that’s easier.

©​ Jonathan Andrews

 

Eye Contact

Sorry, but the bridge of your nose is peeling like
Old wallpaper, and the falling flakes
Are rather disconcerting. 

Have you tried moisturising?
Forgive my bluntness; it’s just one of those
Things I notice, when I’m trapped in a chat
And have to summon up a civil face.

I spend aeons staring at your nose; because, to you,
It looks as though we’ve interlocked our gaze.
I got that off a dating site. I guess 
I’m a Lothario, given the swathes 
Of men and women that I use it on.

I’ve tried to make contact before. But when I stare 
Into the window of your soul, Abyss 
Stares back at me: A raging, unquenched fire
Of hungry skull-burrowing worms.

So then I have to rip the link, and tear
My eyes away, to whatever’s near;
Perhaps the table, perhaps the embroidered
Pillow resting on the swivel-chair.

But then you’d wonder why; assume
A gnat, or flashing light, had grabbed my sight;
Query why I was so grotesquely rude, to break 
Mid-sentence. Then the seeds of doubt

In my devotion, and your thoughts of me
As some strange oddity would be confirmed.
So, all else being equal, I’d rather stare 
At the skin-flakes peeling from your nose.


Diagnosis

So much depends
Upon

A tick within a
Box

Made by the right
Woman

In the right
Place

At the right
Time.

©​ Jonathan Andrews

 

Stimming

How can I explain? It’s a primal, visceral itch - 
Just like a craving, or a hunger-pang –
And must be scratched.

Sometimes I’ll bite my nail, sometimes let loose
A barrage of obscenities and slanderous half-truths
To an invisible audience in an empty room
To cover up the clock’s tick-tock
Or the radiator’s sharp, persistent whirr.

And at my desk, I’ll knock my legs 
Together, like a child desperate for the loo
To shake out excess energy, conjured up
In a vivid daydream session.

Even now, sitting here, pen in hand,
My right foot’s violent flail 
And twice-a-second weathervane kicks
Won’t stop.

Occasionally somebody snares an earful 
Of my exclamations, or sees my foot
Jutting west-east-south-north
And declares me to be “MAD!”

Which I always find funny, because that madness
Is what keeps me sane. I wonder if they’d like to see the creature
With mismatched humours and unbridled angst
I’d be without that kick, or mumbled curse?

But for the most part, no one hears.
And if they do, they’re strangers. Just as well.
To them I’m just the weird commuter
Rushing past on the way to the Hastings train.

©​ Jonathan Andrews


The Rest is Silence

The story always starts the same:
They ask me, “What’s your name?”

And my answer’s always identical too, whether they’re
Male or female, receptionist or party guest, soon-to-be friend
Or soon-to-be foe, handsome or pretty or plain.

Silence.

My mouth is open wide, but the windpipe won’t budge.
Traitorous vines enclose it, choking
Each morsel of a squeak 
Until they die; unborn, unspoken, unheard.

They don’t notice at first.
It dawns on them, after a few seconds:
That pervasive nothingness, filling the air.
Then perplexion rushes through their brains, colours their complexion
With an eager-raised eyebrow or curious glare, 
And then they ask again, always in vain. 

I know my name. I know its function, meaning
And its roots. I know it stems from Hebrew: 
‘God has given’. Yet He won’t let me speak it.
I keep a list within my head 
Of all the men who bear and bore it.
I know of all the family politic
That picked that name for me.
But all this is irrelevant, because 
It’s trapped within a mind 
Trapped within a body-cage.

And it never changes. Silence always falls
When the question is asked.

So then I struggle with my chords, and soon
An awkward grumble peters out;
A gasping naming declaration, twisted
To deformity by stuttered chokes.

Then they reply, “Could you repeat that, please?
I didn’t quite catch it,” with polished ease.

And it starts all over again.

©​ Jonathan Andrews


The Spectrum

When you’ve met one of us, 
You’ve met one of us.
And when you’ve met two, you’ve met two.
And when you’ve met three…
Well, surely you see?
I’m not saying anything new.

We’re daughters, and sons.
We’re dads, and we’re mums.
We’re brown and we’re blonde and we’re grey.
In a hundred, we’re one.
We’re a million to one.
We’re straight and we’re bi and we’re gay.

We’re great statisticians.
We’re mathematicians.
We’re writers. And lawyers. And Lords.
We’re Priests in our chapels;
Soldiers, fighting battles
That others would rather ignore.

We’re black and we’re white.
We’re wrong, and we’re right.
And all of the shades in between.
We’re Christian, and Jew,
Muslim, Atheist too.
We’re pensioners, toddlers, and teens.

We’re a big pick-and-mix,
And our outlooks aren’t fixed.
In that, we’re like anyone else.
We’re husbands and wives
Getting on with our lives.
We’re only as weird as yourself.

© Jonathan Andrews

 

Comments

Catherine Smith

/
26 January 2016

Jonathan, I love your poetry. Do you have a collection published?

Best wishes,

Catherine

Www.catherinesmithwriter.co.uk

Jonathan Andrews

/
2 June 2016

Hi Catherine, Sorry for my late reply I've just seen this! Really glad to hear you like my poetry, I've written some more recently you may like https://www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/understanding-autism/are-you-aged-16-25-and-on-the-spectrum/myvoice/autism-and-me/own-little-world.

I don't have a collection published right now but am looking into this.

Many thanks,

Jonathan

Wendy Young

/
9 June 2015

Great to see your work on DAO Jonathan.

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