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“Last semester, a student with Asperger’s announced
to our class that yes, Frank O’Hara was right”

By Tom C. Hunley

Ever since my son’s diagnosis I’ve dreamed
           that I could spill a box of toothpicks and he would
yell out the right number, like Raymond in Rain Man.
           Last semester, a student with Asperger’s announced
to our class that yes, Frank O’Hara was right
           in “The Day Lady Died,” about Bastille Day 1959
taking place on a Tuesday, and when questioned,
           he shrugged, said, “I have all of these calendars in my head.”
I was sure that my envy of that young man’s parents
           could not be assuaged by any amount of money,
would not be diminished by any amount of time passing.

All I’ve ever heard from teachers is that my son disrupts class
           by shouting “159 days left of school!” in the middle
of Reading class, that he needs an IEP, an attendant,
           a sensory room, a resource room, speech therapy.
That his IQ is lower than 70. That he couldn’t stay
           in Montessori because he kept running out the front door
into the parking lot. That the other boys put him up
           to telling the teacher that she’s sexy. That he punched a wall.
That his expressive speech is in the bottom one percentile,
           meaning he has trouble telling us what’s on his mind.
That his receptive speech is in the bottom one percentile,
           meaning he has trouble understanding what we say to him.

But last week, at an English Department party,
           when the department head proposed a toast
to the composition director, my son said
           “Who? That guy in back with the 38×34 Levi jeans?”
There were fifty people in the house. “How did you know?”
           I asked, and he shrugged, “It’s easy to read the tags.”
And this week, the day after yearbooks came out,
           he saw a schoolmate at Little Caesar’s Pizza
and said “That boy’s on page 45 of the yearbook.”
           As Charlie Babbitt says in Rain Man:
“Well, that is fuckin’ poetic, don’t you think?”


Tom C. Hunley has published poems in South Carolina Review, Southern Indiana Review, Southern Poetry Review, Story South and Smartish PaceWhat Feels Like Love: New and Selected Poems is forthcoming in 2021 from C&R Press.

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash