On the Spectrum: Dan Poems – Poetry

By Kathryn Jacobs

Writer’s Statement: This series of poems are all about Dan, a young relative with autism who likes to tell his own story the way he sees it. Unfortunately our neuro-normal world likes its categories, and Dan doesn’t see things that way. Moreover Dan finds pronouns like “I” and “me” tricky, so he feels safer in the third person – names in particular feel safe, because names don’t change. Dan works very hard to accommodate the world he lives in however; he thinks things over. In short, I hope you like him.

Behind the Bookcase –

(for Dan, who is on the spectrum)

Dan likes to be alone because that way
he knows which feet are his; they don’t become
his mother’s giant feet by accident
(that was embarrassing); he couldn’t get
her toes in even, and she made that face,
which means he’s done it wrong.

That’s one reason.

But Dan is also happy when alone
because he likes the conversations; Dan
gets both sides right. It’s worrisome to talk
to other people; it’s a guessing game.
Dan has to contradict them when they’re wrong.
Besides, they like to change directions, though
that doesn’t interest Dan.

No, it’s alone
Dan has his best ideas –



“Josh doesn’t have the words for that right now”
(says Mom). Which made Dan thoughtful. I’m The Dan.
I call Dan “him” because it’s easier,
but most people say “I,” and so the Dan
is practicing: he tries.

About those words –
the missing words, the ones Josh doesn’t have:
Dan doesn’t have them either; words are hard.
Dan has a few though – I do. And the Josh
is good at saying “no,” but if Dan asks
to tickle Kathryn, Josh is fine with that.
Whereas a “tickle Josh” gets “no, no no!”
and run away to Thomas.

So I think
(Dan does, we both do)  there’s a Josh in there
with just two words inside; that’s all he knows.
Which means that Josh is even worse than Dan –


Words Come Like That

Dan tried to ask for shoes. But words like that,
although they might pop in by accident,
are properly remembered in a list.
It didn’t matter that The Dan was dressed,
he had to ask for “shirt-pants-socks;” he went
in order top-to-bottom, to get at
the word he wanted, cause they come like that –

and no one waited for him; mom just said
he couldn’t have the wonder-woman socks
Dan wears because he likes stars too; instead
his sister got to wear them. And the shoes?
Well, after moping in his plain white socks,
The Dan refused to wear them –


There is No “I” Here

There is no “I” here, that’s the problem; Dan
is more like an alliance. There’s the Dan
who’s full of questions that he asks out loud –
and there’s the Dan who answers. And the Dan
who thinks of all the put-together words
because he likes their sound, though when he sings
“the wheel-chairs on the bus go round and round,”
the people listening insist he’s wrong;
and they say “milk,” not “milkshakes.” So then Dan

decides to be a puppy in his head.
He’s not a duckling (they get everything).
He’d be a spider that says “ribbit” though
except the rules say no, that’s only frogs;
Dan makes his own rules. So he jumps and sings
“five little spiders, jumping on the web”

and they say “ribbit” if they want to –

Kathryn Jacobs is the editor of The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry. She is also professor at Texas A & M – C. Her fifth volume of poetry, Wedged Elephant) was published last year by Kelsay Press. Previous books include In Transit (David Roberts Books) and three chapbooks. She has also appeared in Wordgathering, Southern Poetry Anthology, Third Wednesday, Mezzo Cammin and Xavier Review, When not writing poetry Dr. Jacobs publishes books and articles on medieval and Renaissance literature, including Marriage Contracts from Chaucer to the Renaissance Stage (University Press of Florida) and articles in The Chaucer Review and Mediaevalia. 


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