Nov. 7, 2005

Autism Poem: The Grid

by Barbara Crooker

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Poem: "Autism Poem: The Grid" by Barbara Crooker from Radiance © Word Press. Reprinted with permission.

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 the tiny holes,
the way the boundaries are defined. And in 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.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1917 that the Russian Revolution took place, bringing the first Communist government in the world to power, under the control of Vladimir Lenin. There had been a semi-Democratic government in Russia since 1905, with the Czar sharing power with a parliament. But the Czar had grown increasingly unpopular, especially since the beginning of World War I. The Russian army was poorly equipped and poorly led, and Russian soldiers were slaughtered in the thousands by the Germans. World War I also disrupted the economy and created huge food shortages. Inflation raised the prices of available goods by more than 700% in just three years.

Soldiers began deserting the Russian Army and many of them went to St. Petersberg, where food riots broke out in the winter of 1917. There were demonstrations calling for an end to the war and an end to the Czar's rule. To prevent revolution, Czar Nicholas II stepped down from the throne on March 15th, 1917 and he was replaced by a provisional government.

That summer, Russia experienced a brief taste of true democracy. Freedom of speech was granted to both individuals and newspapers for the first time. All political and religious prisoners were given amnesty. And all citizens were given the right to vote in secret ballot elections. But the provisional government decided to continue fighting in the extremely unpopular war against Germany, and that helped fuel opposition groups.

In April of 1917, Vladimir Lenin crossed the boarder back into Russia for the first time in ten years. He had been in exile in Switzerland, plotting how to start a socialist revolution. Lenin's argument was that capitalism had started the World War, and that the workers in the trenches fighting the war should turn their guns away from each other and instead fight a civil war to overthrow their leaders and take rightful control of their governments.

Lenin's political party was called the Bolsheviks, and their slogan was "Peace, Land, and Bread." With the continuing unpopularity of the war, they quickly became the most popular political party in the country.

Lenin was accused of being a German spy by the provisional government in July 1917, so he had to go underground. In order to attend a meeting of the Bolsheviks in late October of that year, he had to wear a disguise and sneak through the city streets. He made it to the meeting undetected, and after a heated ten hour debate, he persuaded a majority of his party to launch an armed takeover of the country.

Lenin gave the order for the workers' militia to seize government buildings on this day in 1917, and the coup met almost no resistance. Then next day, Lenin was elected chairman of the Council of the new Soviet Government. Overnight, he had gone from a fugitive in hiding to the leader of the revolutionary government in the largest country in the world.

Lenin believed that a communist country would need to be ruled at first by a military dictatorship, but that once communism took hold, people would be so happy with the new system that most of the coercive elements of the government would wither away, and society would become a classless, stateless paradise. He said, "While the State exists there can be no freedom; when there is freedom there will be no State." His vision never came to pass. Russia would remain a totalitarian police state for most of the rest of the twentieth century.

It's the birthday of writer Albert Camus born in Mondovi, Algeria (1913). His father was killed in the Battle of the Marne, and his mother worked as a cleaning woman; she could barely read. His family lived in two rooms, and they had no money, but a grammar-school teacher prodded him toward a university education. He studied philosophy in Algiers.

In 1940, he moved to an Algerian town called Oran, where he spent time on the beach. One day, he saw a friend of his get into a fight with some Arab men and threaten them with a pistol. Soon afterward, he worked the scene into a novel called The Stranger, which became his most famous book.

The Stranger was published in 1942, followed by a collection of essays, The Myth of Sisyphus (1943). He also wrote The Plague (1947), a novel about the way people react when disease terrorizes their city. The Plague made him rich enough to quit his job at a publishing house, but he stayed. His boss convinced him to drive back to Paris one night in 1960 instead of taking the train. He was killed in an accident on the way. His unused train ticket lay in his pocket, and the manuscript of his last novel was found in the wreckage.

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