Learning to Live 8.5 Hours From My Autistic Daughter

The last time we talked
she said she wanted
every bone in her body
to break.
And so I picture her on a ledge
flirting with the idea of flying,
knowing she admires the flitting of butterflies
from one pollen hive to another
I watch her wings
open and close open and close
like they are breathing
like her wings are lungs

rhythmically pushing and tugging
at the October air.
When she jumps off that ledge
she is one with the autumn air
careening on currents,
her wings a blur of color
until she gently lands
on my shoulder
all bones intact
as she nuzzles my ear
humming that Lithuanian melody
I used to sing to her as an infant,
the one she recited in flawless Lithuanian
when she was twelve years old.
Years of sign language,
with me miming utterances
my fingers dancing words, whole sentences,
imploring her to speak
to say my name
to speak “‘mama”
but all she said for three years
was “minna minna minna.”
Which meant nothing.
Which meant everything.
I hold her in my hands,
bone connected to bone,
this fragile flesh of my flesh.
This daughter who speaks
in the language of butterflies.

After having taught middle- and high-school English for thirty-two years, Marianne Peel is now nurturing her own creative spirit. She occasionally does field-instructor work with various universities, has taught social-coaching classes for autistic adults and spent three summers in Guizhou Province teaching best practices to teachers in China. She received Fulbright-Hays awards to Nepal and Turkey and won the poetry and genre prizes at Jelly Bucket literary magazine and the poetry prize at ESME (Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere). Her poetry has been published by Muddy River Poetry Review, Belle Rêve Literary Journal and EastLit Magazine and appeared most recently in Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty. A flute-playing vocalist, she is learning to play the ukulele, raising four daughters and sharing her life with her partner, Scott, whom she met while in Turkey.

About the Poem

“This poem is about my daughter who is autistic. Due to circumstances, Annelise and I now live about eight and a half hours apart. We see and speak with one another quite frequently, but it has been very difficult being this far away from her. The poem explores some of the frustrations of not being close to her.”

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