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World Autism Awareness Week 2021: Henry Normal shares poems to, and inspired by, his son Johnny

March 31, 2021 Books Comments Off on World Autism Awareness Week 2021: Henry Normal shares poems to, and inspired by, his son Johnny
Henry Normal and his son, Johnny

Henry Normal, co-writer and producer of award-winning TV shows and films such as The Royle Family, The Mrs Merton Show, The Parole Officer, Paul Calf, Gavin & Stacey, Alan Partridge, among many others, shares some of his brilliant poems written for, and inspired by, his son, Johnny, as part of World Autism Awareness Week 2021.

Pioneered by the National Autistic Society (NAS), World Autism Awareness Week, which runs from March 29 until April 2, aims to draw attention to the 700,000 people living with autism in the UK, both to educate those unaware of the condition and to help make the world friendlier to those who are affected by it.


IF YOU SHOULD EVER CLIMB A TREE

I’m not sure how much weight

my head can support

 

but I enjoy the familiarity

the casual lack of boundaries

 

Without a word

we get a sense of someone

 

If you should ever climb a tree

I will be your low hanging branch

I want that to be unquestioned

 

If my neck snaps

it was meant to be

 

It is the most important thing

to know

 

In the absence of sufficient language

I would rather seek out trees 

to remind you

 

THE WALKING WOUNDED AT LIDL

 

My psoriasis does not qualify 

for priority parking

 

My wife eases her dodgy back

out of the vehicle

 

As eyes view us with suspicion

a blue badge authorises the windscreen

 

My father-in-law reveals nothing

of his need for Statins

 

Only my mother-in-law looks the part 

leaning heavily on her stick

 

A stroke and heart attack at the same time

qualifies her for a shorter walk to the supermarket

 

Earlier I saw her lift the weight from the world 

Immersed in water 

 

her limbs as free as summer

no time limitation in sight

 

Once inside the shop we are in public

A world of plenty is laid out before us

 

Fridges hum, tills bleep 

Musak underscores decisions made

 

A little girl with no physical ailments 

squeals constantly for attention

 

She too has her story

 

My son wears his ear defenders

as the two of us sit back in the car

out of the way

and wait

 

in the disability space

 

RECLAIMED 

My camera can’t capture the breadth 

of this wind-teased ocean

or the authority of volcanic mounds 

that fall away far beyond the beach

 

180 degrees of untamed depth

180 degrees of fire made solid

 

Johnny pinches his mum’s skin

playful in this physical domain 

 

Small barnacles polka dot 

black boulders on the beach

smoothed by abrasion 

 

All this ground upon which I stand

is just a bigger rock rising out of the sea  

 

I am anchored in the present by family

We whoop and shout into the high wide sky

 

For a full 360 degrees our world 

remains beautifully autistic 

 

THE INTOXICATION OF TIDAL SHIFT

 

From the outside a whirlpool

looks an impossibility

 

like the mapping of milk in coffee

but there is beauty in this energy

 

The simple draining of a bath

or the passing of an airplane

 

can curl the elements. My son

brings out the best in people

 

I see the curl in them 

as he enters the room

 

as if he gives each permission

to be themselves

 

LEAKAGE

 

I have one photo of you crying

a sole tear preserved in black and white

your cheek as yet soft canvas 

sunlight surrounding your understanding

 

There appears a question 

in the window of your eye

your pupil un-dilated

a confusion perhaps leaking out

 

This interaction is in close up 

the background lacking focus

your pale lips unmoved

unable to control the tide

 

In the fifteen years since

you have not shed saltwater 

on the outside

although

 

occasionally I catch the same look 

on that same child face

only fleeting

as though unsure of the flood

 

YOU WON’T FIND A BOX TO TICK ON ANY FORM FOR THIS

 

It must have taken some time to build that wall 

and there are so many walls

and there’ve been so many lives spent building them

 

We sit together 

our backs to the stones

each in our own breath

 

No-one can see what catches our eyes

only a quiet body language

You could be any teenager

 

I could be any dad

neither revealing superpowers of

good or evil

 

Your hand hovers 

unconcerned with personal space

We are not afraid to touch in passing

 

We have arrived at an understanding

almost unnoticed

we are on the same side of the wall

 

FIRST PRIZE

 

As you climb the podium 

we applaud

there is no grand speech

 

We are the only witnesses

if you discount

the shrubs and the sky of course

 

This is for fun

but motivation is there

balance and co-ordination

 

You are the hero

you have overcome

you are ready to play

 

There are no medals big enough

no metals shiny enough

to do you justice

 

Two wooden boxes 

on a piece of grass

make you taller

 

But 

you are already taller

you are already taller

 

SAND SUSPENDED IN MID AIR

 

Sand suspended in mid air

defies the natural order

 

Johnny presses his teeth

against the back of his hand

to contain the excitement

 

My wife stands ready 

as I bash the bottom of the 

sun lounger once more

 

We can only see the effect 

captured by a single frame

 

I’m unsure what delight

my son is experiencing

 

We can only see the effect 

captured by a single frame.

 

WITHOUT TRESPASS

 

Your hands are together

as though in prayer

 

The image before you

has his arms raised

as though wanting to be picked up

 

Without trespass

I try not to project my hopes

and accept all possibility

 

Your hands might be caught mid clap

The image might be exalting the sky

You are more than my perception

 

You may be warming your hands

against the weather

The image may well be waving

 

You could be rubbing chalk between your palms

The image could simply be trying to surrender

 

AUDITIONING FOR THE X-MEN IN THE WETLANDS

 

Drawn back to the lagoon

two shaved apes

 

neither of which speak the language

doing nothing much 

not a thunderbolt in sight

 

This day wouldn’t fill a postcard

The landscape lounges

 

We are happy mutants

sixty percent water

three percent orange juice

 

The sea and sky

an agreed grey

 

Elephant clouds

stepping the Pillars of Hercules

pale amber kissing the dunes

 

The smile on my son’s face

making the moment immortal

 

TRAVELLING IN 4D

 

When my dad died

I was given his watch

 

Strange, as we never 

spent that much time together

absent within the same room

 

Our days were marked by

coins stacked on the mantlepiece

electric, gas, bread and milk

 

I won’t leave the watch to my son

he has no need to measure hours

days are marked with meals and sleep

 

outside time or in perfect sync

a zone uncharted in any atlas

 

We are in the world as wide as it is

side by side

 

He chooses to walk with me

I choose to walk with him

 

With Johnny’s arm around my shoulder

the spin of the Earth slows

 

Johnny, Henry Normal's sonACADEMIA AND THE COMPULSION TO COMPETE

 

Too small to be a snowman

this could be a snow child

 

I hold onto your hands

partly to warm them

but partly not

 

Two brussels sprouts

a lemon for a nose

scarf and cap

 

We are not going to win any prizes

This is a family photo

of family

for family

 

It need be of no interest to anyone else

If you saw it in an album

you might well flick past without comment

a little embarrassed 

that we would consider this worth presenting

 

Whether we are on a downhill slope

or uphill 

is a matter of perspective

 

Our faces white as hoar frost

haunt these early learnings

 

When you were a baby

I put your name down for a school place

paid a deposit

 

The money is no loss at all

 

TWICE AS MANY HYDROGEN ATOMS AS OXYGEN MOVING

 

I don’t need to see his face to know it’s him

the light has its own plans

 

In reality nothing is still as elements compete

A split second away there is another poem

 

If I want I can see a trail of silver 

at the spill

 

or the ominous underbelly of distant concentrations

Everything I see is a reflection of this love

 

I can home in on the dislocation of arms

in motion

 

or glory in the contrast

of chemistry as liquid and gas

 

We may not see the same world at all

I hope yours is as full of splendour

 

THE CANALS OF MARS AT THEIR HEIGHT 

 

An empty bottle for bashing

better than any toy

You are in control

there is no pretence at role play

 

This is nature unreserved

You lean forward

your brim upturned

not only the sun lights your face

 

This is a choice 

not a compromise

This is authentic

not a substitute or a version

 

Expressing, playing, stimming

whatever name I give it

is only my invention

and won’t alter the fun one bit  

 

If the bottle was made of precious metal

it wouldn’t necessarily be any better

The red dust complements the bright blue 

of living water

 

You are no longer apart from the topography

 

AS THE GROUND ACCELERATES TOWARDS YOU AT AN ACUTE ANGLE

If I tilt my head to the side

you are perpendicular

and the rest of this unholy mess

is at a slant

 

Italic trees in parallel 

mark the degrees

ten past the hour

 

Dry leaves defy gravity

There is no slide to the east

 

Shadows brave the slope

The Sun no longer certain

of its position 

 

Toes grip for balance

Legs lengthen or shorten

to compensate

 

Fire-engine red you stand out

amid the muted woodland

 

You lean against the sky like Atlas

carrying all on your back 

 

PHOTOS WITH MY SON 

Johnny is not interested in having his

photo taken

 

When prompted he will look at the lens

His hand is likely to move at any moment

 

I suspect he is not sure what is expected of him

‘Smile’, he says

 

He doesn’t smile

he just says smile

 

echoing the words

from behind the camera

 

SUMMER ON PLUTO 

In a room with no windows

I am given a leaflet

 

The word incurable

is printed in bold on the first page

 

This is the only time I will spend in this room

This is the only time I will speak to this person

 

Autism is a spectrum

there are degrees

 

Your son is mildly severe

What does that mean ?

 

It means he will always live at home

it means he will never have a job

 

never have a girlfriend

never be capable of taking care of himself

 

You will never have a conversation with him

ever

 

It means you will worry about him everyday

you will worry if he’s happy

 

you will worry if he’s lonely

you will worry what will happen to him when you die

 

Mildly severe

benignly savage

 

kindly cruel

none of this appeared on the leaflet

 

KING CANUTE SHOULD HAVE CHECKED THE TIDES

Taking your own chair to the beach

is a commitment

fleecy on

hood up

 

Better to keep your limbs moving 

some might say

but sitting is a definite statement

 

We are not just passing through

we are making a stand

sitting firm

 

Day trippers we are not

nor ill prepared tourists 

We are stones amongst scattered pebbles

rocks amongst shingle

 

Bring on your highest wave

the glory is ours 

we live here

we own this weather

 

IF YOU SHOULD EVER CLIMB A TREE

I’m not sure how much weight

my head can support

 

but I enjoy the familiarity

the casual lack of boundaries

 

Without a word

we get a sense of someone

 

If you should ever climb a tree

I will be your low hanging branch

I want that to be unquestioned

 

If my neck snaps

it was meant to be

 

It is the most important thing

to know

 

In the absence of sufficient language

I would rather seek out trees 

to remind you

 

UNCOMFORTABLY POSITIVE

This might not seem that different a picture to you

but this is the look of a mother

to her autistic child

taking his first photo

 

The look of a mother

anticipating success

 

the coal face of optimism

the body language of hope

 

If I was susceptible to joy

this could easily affect me

 

Unlike my wife

I have immunity 

to all forms of jubilation

 

I err towards caution

bordering scepticism 

on matters of good fortune or progress

 

This condition we embrace 

I’ve learnt is not linear

not predictable like neurotypical behaviour

 

Five minutes after you leave us

you will turn to one another and say

‘Well, we can see where that comes from’

 

IS MEMORY THOUGHT OR EMOTION? 

Monkey bin

is a huge monkey head on a bin

 

It’s not a real monkey

it doesn’t move or make a noise

it has no arms or legs or body

just a head on top of a waste bin

 

This is Johnny’s favourite bit of the zoo

Mine too

 

Johnny did like the penguins

It’s a relief to know what he likes

or doesn’t like

it’s probably the basis of all

personality

 

He hates erratic noise

dogs and babies or

young girls who can’t get what they want

 

I was drawn to the infant giraffes

awkward and strangely poetic

Johnny wasn’t impressed

the moment came and went

 

The tiger intimidated

I could see in his eyes

he’d fuck me up if he could

 

I’m sure there were other animals

real monkeys and shit

 

but the only animals I remember

apart from monkey bin

 

are the giraffes, the tiger and

the penguins

and what I felt when I saw them

 

It’s more the feeling I recall

and a yearning

for connection


 

For more information about World Autism Awareness Week 2021, click here

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