When a child starts school, so too the parents:
this is a truth cloudmother can’t escape.
Here are others – when a teacher favours a child,
so too the parents; when a classmate befriends a child,
so too the parents; when a label owns a child,
so too the parents. The mother most of all.
The handwriting lessons that failed to prepare her for life;
the teachers who saw careers in computers not art or poetry;
the years she spent invisibly circling the schoolyard:
the institutional past cloudmother thought she’d shed
returns. What follows are a sleepless night and a waking
to a trick of the light that breaks across the harbour
and makes sea and sky one, their limpidity fusing them
into image and duplicate, a lone kawau observing all.
When cloudmother escorts her son to class, everything
he is yet to bear and be pained by unfurls in her
like a hailstorm. Drear mornings of multiplication
when cloudboy’s eyes float outside to nimbostrati dark
and static as the wings of dead wasps or caged starlings;
lunchtimes of lonely drifting around the playground
when reaching out towards faint cirrostrati refracted
into halo phenomena is easier than making a friend;
afternoons reading Gulliver’s Travels to restless pyrocumuli,
“behold an Island in the Air, inhabited by Men who were able to raise,
or sink, or put it into Progressive Motion…”: cloudmother sees
these will precipitate her son’s future, just as for her they will
birth times before the bell when parents gather to gossip
and she’ll race to places where only cloudboy can find her.
Later classmates will rain their mothers’ whispers upon cloudboy
until they condense icily in the air he and cloudmother occupy:
cold spells about junk food turning cloudboy into a freak;
cold spells about the mother turning cloudboy into a freak.
Note: A year ago, my son was diagnosed with autism. It has taken us eight years of his life and four years of his schooling to reach this diagnosis. Parents of autistic children can find that one of the hardest things about supporting their child isn’t their autism but the inflexibility of the school system which, even in these enlightened times, can so easily and quickly make children outcasts because of their difference. This is certainly my experience. “Cloudmother” is part of a body of work I’m writing which voices the difficulties autistic children and their parents encounter. “Kawau” referenced in this poem is the Māori word for a black cormorant.