A Handful of Poems – Part 1

by Nicola Rathbone

Image by _Alicja_ from Pixabay

These have been written at various points of my life before I knew I was autistic. Reading them again, I question why it never occurred to me that being autistic was a possibility.

This poem speaks to my difficulty of being able to say the ‘right thing’ especially when someone is struggling and how the platitudes you are supposed to say are basically pointless nothings. I have since learnt this is a very common perspective for autistics who will share their own stories to show empathy – a shared experience of feeling.

Cheer Squad

I’m always at a loss for words 
When someone’s feeling down
‘Cheer up’ is trite
And makes light
Of the others situation.

‘I know what you’re going through’
Is a lie. How can I? I’m not you.
I feel my feelings
You feel yours
I can only recognise your pain.
But it’s not the same.

‘It will get better’ is another one.
Really? When? Can you give a date?
Have you visions?
A crystal ball?
Not at all. It is just empty wishes.

What I really want to say instead is
‘Life is shit sometimes. It just is.’
But you are not alone
You have a crowd
Of people cheering you on,
Even if you can’t hear us yet.

And we love you in whatever mood you’re in
Wanting rainbows and sunshine and flowers for you
But still knowing
It can piss down 
And an umbrella is nowhere to be found. 

This poem was written after being bullied by work colleagues and once again finding myself unable to fit in. I was understandably a little bitter, not to mention angry, at finding myself, once again, in this situation.


When you sit there and snigger at my non-conformity
Does it not occur
I pity your fear-bound uniformity
I pity your rule-bound integration
I pity at your pusillanimous segregation.

Can you not see the world you have lost
Shutting out change?
I sing with the multi-coloured universe
I dance with the rainbow of possibilities
I explode with the opportunity of infinity.

So huddle together in your world of grey and greige
Scorning us all
Who do not fit your tiny standards
Who are too fat, too thin, too loud, too smart, too dumb
Too free. And watch us soar.

This poem was written after I had just left an abusive marriage. One of the things that came up in counselling was that I camouflaged – pretended to be whatever I thought the other person wanted in order to keep them happy. It is part of autistic masking, something I didn’t know at the time, and is also a trauma response – fawning, designed to protect us and keep us safe. Again, a common autistic response from growing up in a world where we are attacked for being different.

I was in burnout and too tired to pretend any more. And counselling showed me that I not only shouldn’t have to, doing so was very harmful to my long-term mental health.

Be My Valentine!

As I sit here at the table
Eyes swivel, watch me curiously
Why’s she waiting? Will he make it?
Or has he dumped me publicly?

I am feeling light amusement
Watching them stare, just wondering
Reading their questions in their eyes
Knowing the truth will never dawn.

They cannot see, I wait for no-one
I’m the Valentine for me!
I chose to play his games no more
Partnership not worth my life.

All the years I showed false faces
My thoughts, opinions, even looks
To please, to soothe, to satisfy
To keep him happy, keep him near.

After time I lost the real me
Inside a perfect crafted fake
Who could love this shattered image
Him, who had never seen what’s real?

And as I drowned inside his hate
I realised I’d lost my way
And saw my soul at its true worth
At once I valued what was gone.

This year I choose to sit alone 
To pledge one thing to my true love
Never again to cheat myself
To catch a man to share my life.

To all you Valentine’s out there
May all you ever wish come true
Remember though whatever comes
Your truest love must always start with you.

This last serious poem was written for a friend. She was grieving. I was recovering from burnout. At that time, I did not have a name for my experience – only the experience. For a long while she had been unable to paint anything but grey. Then one day, a shoot of green crept into her canvas and showed her, and me, hope again.


Winter wraps around, 
Smothers in cold
Numbed, defeated
Cannot think, cannot move, cannot... be
White spreads forever, unending, unchanging, unyielding
And yet...
One shoot
One kiss of green
One blink, one promise of more
A whisper of burgeoning spring now approaching.
Just one shoot,
A glimmer of nothing,
Yet opening on to so much more,
Life is unfurling, and in its unfurling, shows infinite shadows of what lies in store.
A world full of colours, a riot of living, a pulsating, beating, hammering roar.
Not yet,
Not now,
But soon. 
I ... breathe...

And finally, a couple for light relief:

Executive dysfunction anyone?

Housework sucks!

Housework is a funny chore
Do it once and it’s there once more
Hoover and dust and clean and then
Another day and do it over again.

Pick up and polish and launder and shine
Another day older and it’s back to the grime.
So I say why bother, life is too short
To be chasing around doing what ‘they’ think I ought

Clean enough to be healthy is my basic creed,
To be happy and cosy is all that we need,
Then spend time I have saved doing what I like best
What I see as important and bugger the rest!

And finally, Nellie – because she is still my favourite 🙂

Her name was Nellie Knickerless
She worked along the docks
She made herself a fortune
Handling men's ...socks
She'd treat them any way you'd like
Sometimes gentle, sometimes rough
And if you asked her nicely
She'd nearly pull them off.
But this story has a moral
That'll make you want to cry
Poor Nellie had to quit her job
She'd developed RSI!
So I hope you ALL will learn from this
Not just prostitutes and pimps
Too much handling finished Nellie
It made her wrist go limp
So moderate your workload
Don't enjoy your job too much
Or you could end up like Nellie
And completely lose your touch!

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