Poetry appearing on this page was produced with the generous support of artsACT
This poem pretty obviously takes as its starting point the picture book All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopman (and its companion All Dogs Have ADHD). However my poem experiments with another animal which is not quite cute enough for a picture book – the Australian Magpie.
Readers from the Northern Hemisphere may not know about this bird, a beautiful but quirky creature about the size of an adult forearm, with black-and-white plumage (like its northern namesake) but with markedly different behaviour. They nest in eucalypt trees and are supremely comfortable in suburban gardens. In spring, adult magpies defend their nests by aggressively swooping on all perceived intruders (i.e. passers-by) within about 300 yards of the nest. Not only does this include pedestrians, but cyclists and cars as well ! Springtime magpie attack is such a public safety issue that many local councils erect signs like the one pictured at left. This feature of magpie behaviour is alluded to in the poem, as are many other interesting magpie peccadilloes.
On another level the poem, like both of Kathy Hoopman’s picture books, plays with the idea of labelling of behaviour: what looks aberrant to one group looks perfectly normal to another. This idea may resonate with you if you have ASD – or if you know, care for and / or love someone on the spectrum. Enjoy.
All magpies are autistic
odd body postures and limb movements, such as twisting or flapping
flutter-flutter. puff. flap-flap. stand. stalk. stop. hoppy – hoppy – hop. stop. waddle-potter. waddle-potter. stop. step. step. step. head on one side. stalk. stalk. stop.
misinterpretation of the intentions of others, causing antisocial behaviour
Warning…Warning…Birds swooping! Birds are nesting in this area. If you come too close, they may attack !
failure to recognise social concepts such as personal space
‘Mum! The magpie’s trying to stand on my sandwich !’
appetite for substances largely non-nutritive (pica)
‘Muuuum!’ Now it’s trying to eat the plastic wrap!’
seemingly random outbursts of speech and noise-making
‘Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle, the magpies say.’*
extreme absorption in one restricted activity with apparent obliviousness to surrounding environment
stock still. stock still. listen. listen. statue. statue. stock still. stock still. listen. listen. statue. sta – STAB THAT WORM !!
frequent self-stimulation by viewing shining, sparkling or rapidly oscillating objects
pretty pretty alfoil. twinkle. twinkle. crinkle. love to watch. shiny bottle cap. light. light bouncing everywhere. pretty.
failure to understand social boundaries and lack of concern for the views of others, leading to transgression of behavioural norms
pretty alfoil. want. take it. take it ? take it ! SNIP !
(*from Denis Glover‘s poem, ‘The Magpies’)