Esther Ottaway

It’s common for autistic girls to make friends with boys, with whom social interactions are often clearer.

At age six we got it – our stick-flimsy bodies 
and Coke-bottle glasses, though unpopular,
were a gift: the tools of an intellectual life.  
Cross-legged on the school library carpet, Darren and I 
read encyclopedias and National Geographic at lunchtimes, 
took notes on common fossils of the Cretaceous period, 
tested each other on how many million miles 
it was to get to Neptune or Ursa Minor;
stayed glassed in, like strange exhibits, 
while outside kids leapt and wrangled, 
yelled for keepings-off and chasings.  

This despite our proud no-nonsense surnames –  
both families deep-rooted in the country town
with proper jobs: his Pop the butcher, mine the barber.
We deserved genes for footy, hard work, strong beer.

I’d go to Darren’s place with armloads of books
when I had the courage – his brother bit and scratched
like a tortured cat. They labelled him allergic
and sentenced him to soy milk and rice cakes – 
these days it would be Ritalin – 
and his mum was just as unnerving, 
always on the brink of wits’-end tears.
Mostly we read in the tiny school library
in New Road (next up from Old Road),
horizons branching into esoteric maps.  

I should have seen it then,
how many million miles away we were.
Darren’s still studying: geology. 
I’m writing, head down, glassed in,
glancing up only occasionally 
at that inscrutable chaos
past the door. 

E Ottaway

Esther Ottaway is an award-winning and widely published Australian poet who was shortlisted in the Montreal International and Bridport Poetry Prizes in 2020. She is writing her third collection, about the experiences of women and girls on the autism spectrum, to be titled She Doesn’t Seem Autistic, forthcoming with Puncher & Wattmann. And she doesn’t seem autistic.



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