Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Sparrows and Penguins"

This poem came out of the May 1, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] mashfanficchick, [personal profile] janetmiles, [personal profile] wyld_dandelyon, [personal profile] redsixwing, [personal profile] we_are_spc (Fallon), [personal profile] torc87, [personal profile] alexseanchai, and [personal profile] chanter_greenie. It also fills the "frustration" square in my 5-1-18 General card for the Pro Wrestling Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the series Fledgling Grace.

"Sparrows and Penguins"

Humboldt lived a life
filled with frustration.

Everyone expected him
to remember names and
recognize faces, even of
people he'd only met once
and didn't actually care about.

They bugged him to make
eye contact, even though it hurt.

They told him to stop obsessing
about swimming all the time, but that
was the only thing that made him happy.

They pestered him to wear sweaters,
even when he wasn't cold, which made it
harder for him to understand his body.

Then the Fledging came, and
suddenly everything changed.

Everyone else in his family
sprouted sparrow wings,
common and cozy.

Humboldt was a penguin.

He had sturdy flippers,
smartly colored black and white,
with a stubby little tail that he
could tuck in his trousers.

Oh, the things he could do
with those flippers on his back!

Humboldt twirled through the pool,
more acrobatic in the water than
he had ever been before.

Just after he turned eighteen,
he went in for a checkup.

"Why, you're a penguin!"
the doctor exclaimed. "I
wonder if you have autism.
So many penguins do."

They ran the tests.
Humboldt had autism.

Suddenly everything made
a whole lot more sense.

He wasn't good at names
and faces, because most
autistic people weren't.

He liked cold weather
because most penguins did.

He obsessed about swimming
because penguins were great swimmers
and most autistic people discovered
an intense passion for something.

Some of his teachers reacted
like this was bad news, but
Humboldt disagreed.

Diagnosis is a user manual,
not a sentence, he insisted.

He found lots of new ideas
on the chatboards for penguins
and people with autism. Those
really helped improve his life.

Of course, in a lot of ways, he
had to write his own user manual.

It was still frustrating to poke around
the body and brain he had, trying
figure out how they worked and
label all the control buttons.

He learned shortcuts and
rewired around some blocks.

Humboldt's family appreciated
the diagnosis because it helped
them understand him better.

Now he could give them
books about penguins and
people with autism, instead of
struggling to explain himself.

He met other penguins, and
his family filled the swimming pool
with ice to make them feel welcome.

He found a penguin boy who
was fond of mutual preening.

It wasn't quite the life that
anyone had predicted for him,
but at least everyone was happier
now that they knew they were

sparrows and penguins.

* * *


Penguins come in various species, including the Humboldt penguin. Enjoy some pictures of them.

"Sparrows and Penguins" is an extended metaphor explaining the difference between neurotypical and autistic lives.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, spirituality, weblit, writing

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