Dark Card, a new book of poems by Rebecca Foust, reviewed by Ricardo Nirenberg.
Dark Card, by Rebecca Foust, ISBN-13: 978-1-933896-14-4, Texas Review Press 2008, http://www.shsu.edu
Some classic lyric themes have lost much of their ancient poignancy—Queen Dido abandoned by Aeneas does not awaken our pity today, when women are expected to be independent. Other classic themes, however, continue to strike us with undimished tragic force: the girl taken away by death just as she is reaching womanhood—Death and the Maiden—has engaged great modern artists such as Rilke and Alban Berg. The leading theme of the present chapbook by Rebecca Foust has no classic parallels as far as I know. Being the mother of an autistic child, being aware of the genetic misfortune, suspecting it was caused by a pharmaceutical given to her mother to prevent miscarriages, and, above all, being acutely conscious of the fact that her son’s brain, in fundamental ways, is wired differently from hers, from ours.
The word “other” has been abused of late. Wielded by preachers of post-colonial guilt, offered as a cure-all by Doctors Dulcamara and mountebanks, and mindlessly uttered, in general, by those who do not realize that we are capable of hating only that which exhibits a predominant portion of the “same” together with at most spicy pinches of the “other.” In Dark Card, however, we are given the chance to feel the tragic tension between sameness and otherness in full: sameness in the bond between mother and son, otherness in his Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism which allows for special prowess in the perception of structure and the manipulation of symbols, although the perception and judgment of other people’s intentions are lacking or deficient. Thus, for instance, the boy creates disruptions at school:
Oh, he was standing on his desk again, crowing
Like a rooster in your third-period class?
Yes, bad manners, and worse luck
That he noticed how today’s date and the clock
Matched the hour of what you taught
Last week in a footnote—the exact pivotal
Second of the Chinese Year of the Cock.
Or, later, when he grows up and is learning to drive, he causes what we may call a catastrophe; from the mother’s point of view, though, it is as nothing compared to the near-catastrophe that attended his traumatic birth:
Sometimes they happen –bombs
blow up school buses, a son’s shyness
is autism, the mole is more than a mole,
a teenager mistakes the brake for the gas
and that sound like a recycle truck drop-gate
where no truck should be and you run, you run
outside and see in the back wall of the garage
the cartoon-cutout shape the size of a car,
but the color of sky.
And when you stop and look through,
the car lolls on its back like a beetle, dazed
and still. Except that wheels still spin slowly
and inside, upside down, slowly swing
two freighted baskets of husband and son
suspended in seatbelts
that unbuckle to release them
in heaps; but this time, thank God,
heaps that move, unfold, extend,
crawl out flattened window frames,
stand up and walk out,
shivering off shards.
The moon appears often in these poems (one remembers that a hundred or more years ago the boy would have been described as a lunatic). The mother, who does not “do math,” perceives her son’s grasping of structure or solution as something magical:
It is possible, finally, to look up and stare
at pi in an infinity of moon.
It is not easy to find new images or metaphors when it comes to the moon and to otherness. Rebecca Foust achieves surprising originality at many points in this accomplished first book.
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