A Mother's Understanding
Dark Card by Rebecca Foust is a journey. It is a journey of the heart that builds up its story sometimes through "Apologies to my OB-GYN," sometimes through "Homage to Teachers," and other times through "Hope" and "Empathy." It is a journey through events, such as "Asperger Ecstasy" or "The Visitation." Dark Card is filled with observation, understanding, and appreciation. It is a gift from a mother to a world that must learn how to coexist with autism.
The first poem in the book is "Dark Card." It introduces us to the poet's son through the reactions of people when they see him at the grocery stores or in school assemblies. The poet watches them as they watch him. "[She] wait[s] for the right moment, till they move" so that she can carry on her routine tasks. She apologizes for the messes he makes and conceals napkins to wipe them away, yet she marvels that "he noticed how today's date and the clock/matched the hour…/of the Chinese Year of the Cock" — the reason why he stood on his desk, crowing like a rooster. She appreciates "how he tastes minute differences between brands/…of pickles and cheese" or "how he sees the moonlit vole/on the freeway's blurred berm." The poem "Dark Card" shows us how autism might be regarded. What appear to be "bad manners" or abrupt behavior can be met with empathy and appreciation instead of social criticism, curiosity, and a lack of understanding.
In the poem "Too Soon," there is the relief of a mother who had a difficult labor, "heav[ing] up in great waves/like the moon-crazed tide" when the doctor "looks young and afraid." And there is the "hope up/en pointe on/its compass foot" in the poem "That Space." The journey of the book leads us to a state of "No Longer Medusa" when the mother's fear remains "undone" by the baby's breath and "pink ribbon gums" and when she freezes as she measures his foot with her thumb.
In "Unreachable Child," the mother's heart calls out to her son in the beginning line of the poem: "Don't go away from me like that." She pleads with him, "I can help with the monster in the closet." She wonders what makes his teeth chatter or what keeps him awake at night. Finally, she asks whether it is "disability/or just the difference in intensity" that explains his behavior.
The poem "Instrument" is filled with scenes from her son's youth. It shows how he loved to "run and climb on/anything until they/taught [him] to sit" and instructed him in the art/of staying/unstrung." The short lines of the poem indicate the early intervention stages when hours are packed with therapies that try to make an individual fit into a social structure and when time goes fast and age competes with abilities and overtakes them.
The poem "Perfect Target" describes how vulnerable her son was to abuse as he trusted other kids who lured him into social pranks. His peers asked him to jump on a lunch table and break it because they convinced him that his teachers wanted him to do so. They cornered him behind the storage shed and stoned him with green oranges or pulled away his chair before he sat, and yet, as much as they engaged him socially, they never invited him to play dates and parties.
The poem "The Visitation" offers the reader a new set of selective abilities, the kind typical of some people with autism. The poet's son loves the Almanac, and he can find lost objects like a dropped contact lens or diamond ring. His keen sense of vision allows him to see things better than other people. His knack for association enables him to find "meaning from acorns,/the sky,/knotted bits/of string." The poem revolves around the fact that certain senses become overly alert in autism, producing these gifts.
The poem "He Never Lies" relates the unerring honesty of some people with autism. As they constantly try to fit themselves into social situations, they are so attentive to the external appearance of objects, events, or people that they forget to see the behind-the-scene reality of what they observe. This group of autistic people puts their entire trust in what their senses show, and they fail to understand the concept of confabulation if they are not familiar with it. The poet fears that her son will be "over blunt/or otherwise by accident/draw their attention,/their anger, their rage" if he is too honest with people.
In "Eighteen," the poet describes a young man who has learned to be responsible for his daily needs, who keeps track of his medicines, who can brush his teeth and shave or charge his phone in case he gets a call from his friends. The poet repeats the phrase "your friends" three times to suggest how important friendship is to her son. As with any eighteen-year-old, his need for social acceptance is great.
The second half of the book is filled with reflective thoughts. In "Sometimes the Mole is Merely Lucky," the poet remembers her anxiety due to an accident involving her husband and son whose seatbelts "unbuckle to release them/in heaps." "[T]hank God,/heaps that move," she tells the reader, as she describes them crawling out from the mangled wreckage. The poet feels lucky about the birth of her son when, in "Lucky," she compares the event with the birth of a boy called Aaron whose brain "starved for oxygen,/ …a second too long." And she remembers, in "Show Your Work," the time when her son had "to learn the discipline/of showing his work;/hours and hours of sitting/at the dining room table" because his teachers harassed him.
In the poem "Asperger Ecstasy," the poet enjoys her son's excitement as he collects coins, views flies under a microscope, "recount[s] the entire year's schedule for the El-train," and picks up certain rocks from the road. She marvels when she sees him being conscious of a little thing like "a bottle cap flattened by traffic." In "Like Dostoyevsky's," the poet proclaims, "My boy loves who he is,/even if the world does not/appreciate how he fills his days." She compares him to Boo Radley from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and to Dostoyevsky's character Prince Mishkin who "never planned/to ensnare the hurt feelings/and hearts that trailed after him."
The book ends with the poem "The Peripheral Becomes Crucial" in which the poet confesses, "My son is gentler with moths/than people ever were with him,/and he chooses truth like breath." This is what the journey called Dark Card reveals to the reader. It is a journey of honest observations and love.