Edward Byrne is the author of six collections of poetry, most recently, Seeded Light (Turning Point Books, 2009) and Tidal Air (Pecan Grove Press, 2002), which includes an extended sequence concerning his son’s autism. His literary criticism also has appeared in various collections. He is a professor in the English Department at Valparaiso University, where he edits Valparaiso Poetry Review. Byrne also writes regular commentary for the journal’s editor’s blog, One Poet’s Notes.
Autism: Seeking Inklings in an Old Video
by Edward Byrne
He held mussel shells — indigo blue inside and black
on back — or those round pebbles he had
found rolling like dark marbles in the tidewater
wash, as if he had a handful of hard candy.
The wind’s speed picked up, the sea shining behind
him, each wave displayed like a crinkled
sheet of tinfoil unfurled under that day’s final
splay of sunlight. Every one of our son’s
uneasy steps at the ocean’s edge left an impression,
still refilling with water — even as I witness
it now, in midwinter three years later. We could
not have known then to watch for the few
symptoms we would soon learn to view with fear.
Even those little hints we missed, a lack
of balance whenever he would lean to lift another
stick of driftwood, as if the shoreline’s
slant had suddenly become too steep, or the tipped
head and sideways glance he’d give us,
though we thought he only wanted reassurance,|
were never seen as dubious sorts of acts
that ought to indicate a reason to have misgivings.
But to the two of us, now so suspicious,
feeling guilt, every unsure move that camera caught
appears to be uninvestigated evidence left
behind, even in this scene when the tape runs to its end.
He sits on the sand, back toward the shore,
counting out his collection of shells in a single file,
as if pretending every one of them were part
of some private treasure, the way anyone might
arrange family keepsakes, jewels or gems
kept as heirlooms somewhere in a darkened drawer,
brought out for comfort in a time of grief.
“Autism: Seeking Inklings in an Old Video” appeared as part of a sequence of poems, “Whole Notes and Half Tones: Songs for My Son,” in Edward Byrne’s collection, Tidal Air, published by Pecan Grove Press in 2002.