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Poetry Moment: Barbara Crooker and 'Autism Poem: the Grid'

Poet Barbara Crooker
Poet Barbara Crooker

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Autism Poem: the Grid” by Barbara Crooker.

Barbara Crooker is the author of 12 chapbooks and nine full-length books of poetry, most recently, Some Glad Morning. Today’s poem is drawn from an earlier collection, Radiance. Recognition for Crooker’s poetry includes the W.B. Yeats Society of New York Award, the Thomas Merton Poetry of the Sacred Award, and three Pennsylvania Council fellowships in literature. Crooker has lived in Fogelsville, Pennsylvania for over 40 years and teaches at Cedar Crest College and elsewhere.

Valentine’s Day often focuses on romantic love, which makes sense given its history. Yet the love we feel in relation to people other than the beloved is frequently as powerful, life-changing, and life-affirming—if not more so. Crooker’s poem reminds us of one of the most intimate of human attachments: the bond between a parent and child. In “Autism Poem: the Grid,” the child’s diagnosis presents itself in the title and in his behaviors, which the poet-mother witnesses and interprets. The mother’s careful observation of her child mirrors his absorbed attention to the parts of the world that command his focus. “Watching” her son—with love, without prejudice—allows her to enter “his world,” to see it through his eyes, and to connect to him without the aid of language. Crooker’s moving poem is testament to the ‘expansive’ nature of the human heart.


Autism Poem: the Grid

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 tiny holes,
the way boundaries are defined. And 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.

That was “Autism Poem: the Grid” by Barbara Crooker.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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