Huffy Henry hid the day,
unappeasable Henry sulked.
I see his point, — a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.
But he should have come out and talked.

I came across this poem today. My head was cloudy when I did, it was late morning, early for me, lonely, sad – my first reaction was this doesn’t make any sense. I was straining my eyes to read it, my mind to accommodate it, and it wasn’t giving me anything back. What a waste of time, I thought. At the same time, somewhere within me was moving, shouting: I know this! I know it. You know it. It is this.

And yes, it is this: a metaphor for life with an autistic boyfriend. (Or, as I first typed: a boyfriend on the spectrum. One of us has been reading about this a lot, and it isn’t him.) Martijn hasn’t been diagnosed, so I’ve no idea how severely affected he’s supposed to be. Definitely not much, not much at all; and at the same time, quite a lot. Then there’s also the question he asked: “what do they measure? How well you can cope, or how hard it is for you to do so?” Which is a good point. He appears to be coping nearly perfectly; he isn’t. It is simple as that.

Equally simple is the fact that took me a year to realise (daft, daft me): autism, even a mild case of Aspergers, is not something that occasionally causes some problems. It is something you live with through every day, every minute. It’s not something that might cause the odd misunderstanding or ignite the odd argument. It is always there. Behind every thing I say or do and how it is perceived; everything he says and how it is expressed; everything he does and how it comes across. It defines how much he feels he is there, present in his own body, in this world of ours. It defines how much he feels there is a world out there.

(I’m not saying he doesn’t know it is there; but knowing and feeling are two different things.)

All the world like a woolen lover
once did seem on Henry’s side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don’t see how Henry, pried
open for all the world to see, survived.

You shouldn’t explain poems, and you can’t, or I can’t, so I won’t. But I wanted to tell you how the idea of a “huffy boy hiding the day” is all too familiar. And I see his point. God knows I do. (Usually; I do run out of patience sometimes; in fact, I usually end up running out of patience, but that’s a different story.) I’ve no idea what “trying to put things over” is supposed to mean, but, to me, it means “tried to change the world, rearrange it, so that it fits him better.” And yes, yes, it is the thought that this is somehow possible (if I only knew where he got it from) that makes my Henry “wicked and away.” (‘Wicked and away’ is the best possible description of the other side of that sweet sweet boyfriend of mine.) But he should have come out and talked. And then things would have got so much better. Like the always are, when he does. But somehow he just can’t seem to do it.

The rest is a lot less straightforward, less appropriate even, but it still rings uncannily true. The world did seem on his side when he was young, and his family tended to put the blame on everyone and everything else when he couldn’t do something, never on him. Until he grew up, that is, and things inevitable changed, and he found himself in adult world that worked in ways he didn’t quite understand. “Nothing fell out as it might or ought.” How he survived through this, confused and alone –and unaware of this– I do not know.

What he has now to say is a long
wonder the world can bear & be.
Once in a sycamore I was glad
all at the top, and I sang.
Hard on the land wears the strong sea
and empty grows every bed.

But then one happy day he met me, and I was in love with the world. Desperately, passionately so. I got excited about everything from maple syrup on pancakes to clouds in the sky. I lived in my senses: a change of weather had the effect drugs allegedly have. The world was my lover. (“Once in a sycamore I was glad all at the top, and I sang.” My, did I love singing up there.) And so, through a long, long and confusing, confusing and disheartening, disheartening and occasionally desperate year it suddenly downed on my Henry. There is beauty in this life, and it’s worth being in love with it. And what he has to say now is, indeed, a big, “long wonder” on what “the world can bear and be”.

I’ve no idea what “hard on the land wears the strong sea” is supposed to mean, but perhaps it has to do with the tide, and how it comes and goes. Like morning comes, “and empty grows every bed.” Which means that things happen in time. And, in time, we will get through this.

Now, I’m sure John Berryman had none of these in mind, and would probably freak out were he alive to read this, but I don’t mind. So: thank you, John Berryman. And thank you, Clock’s Loneliness, too.