Erika Eckart‘s prose poems/flash fictions have appeared in Double Room, Quick Fiction, Quarter After Eight, Quiddity, nano fiction, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ghost Ocean and Women’s Studies Quarterly. She has an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing and English from Loyola University Chicago and an M.Ed. in Language, Literacy and Culture from the University of Illinois at Chicago. When not writing, she teaches high school English in a suburb of Chicago and makes vegan baked goods for her husband and their two young children. She is currently writing a yet-untitled novel about a cult leader, an energy megacorporation, and a popular high school girl found dead in a river. Her forthcoming book of Prose poems, The Tyranny of Heirlooms, will be published by ELJ Publications in Spring 2017.
A Prose Poem
By Erika Eckart
On your child being diagnosed with autism; or shadow puppets enacting an opera about the beginning of time
I. Theory of causality
We are pattern-seeking animals. In abstract paintings I find melting faces, happy, furious, missing ears. All it takes is two holes: a mouth and an eye. The other eye is implied, patched. Your brain will do that, fill in the missing information, turn nonsense words into real ones. Random gestures become a coordinated effort. The virgin mary in a water stain under the highway, jesus in toast, a coincidental meeting read as a sign. This is how it is with autism. We search for reasons. The parts-per-million of plastic I touched, how in the second trimester I sat too close to the monitor, or maybe it is the wrath of a god I don’t know as punishment for when I was 7 and I repeated a joke: “how do you kill a retard? Give him a knife.” Then I thrusted my arm to my chest.
II. Quiet hands and how to get them
First you’ll need adhesive; duct tape might do or superglue. The locks they use in space to hold cheerios in place are also an option, but if you can’t get those a viable alternative is the traditional hammer and nail, or a screw and washer will do the trick, but some have voiced concerns about its humaneness. Velcro is always only temporary but can work for company or to trick an assessor. There’s numbing salts and a carbohydrate-free-diet, but really the best option is providing a flashlight, music and training until the motions can be seen for what they really are: shadow puppets enacting an opera about the beginning of time.
We are in front of the now-extinct mega-fauna. The giant beaver is my favorite. It is the most unlike anything alive today-the most like when in a cartoon a creature eats a magic seed or radioactive waste and expands into the sky. All a beaver’s cute features (buck teeth, wide tail) suddenly threatening. The accompanying sign describes how they needed too many vegetable calories to docile-y lumber in a changing environment.
I hear two mothers, both with wobbly girls trying without success to walk.
“If I could just keep her little forever.” one says. Nothing marks time like the growth of a child, molting each day, crawling, then walking and then running all in the opposite direction, looking back less and less.
They won’t look over here and acknowledge him, only slightly more advanced than their stumbling walkers, five-years-old but as big as a seven-year-old, his low-toned soft middle, elastic pants and velcro shoes. He is the mega-fauna version of the stumbling toddlers and our environment isn’t conducive to him either. He is depressing the animal sound buttons over and over and over and stimming with joy at the aural cause and effect. I guard other museum goers from his flailing limbs. In between the animal noises he sings “I just came to shake. Oh-oh.” as if it were one spaceless word.
When he is happiest his head is swiveling on its axis, and his smile is spilling over into his eyes. He is pushing a button that repeats a sound fragment again and again, which causes more happiness than is allowed outside of chandelier hanging/kegstands/bungee jumping, and all he has to do is depress a button on a plastic piece made in china. And he is trying to match it with his own little emissions of sound, high pitched and other-worldly, progressively more shrill, and he is in this liquid/happy/frenzied state eternally or until the button gives out/the circuit board fails/the tiny battery deep inside gives way, but before that, he would forget to eat/sleep/urinate/breath, so I have to shake him out of this happy place because it looks pretty and all, but it is walking into the light. So I am pulling him back into our dull world, asking him about how many pieces of celery I am holding or how old he is or shaking a picture card in his face screaming “which one is red?”” Which one do you sleep in?” “Who is crying here?” I am begging him to not eat the poisoned apple, shaking him from the sorcerer’s spell, pulling him from the tower by his hair, pleading with him “don’t look back” and I have to do it fast too, because there is a ticking timer and man with a gun.