Deborah Allbritain
  • Deborah Allbritain
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  • Every Tuesday and Wednesday morning
  • I pick up Joe from the autism class, walk him
  • down the school hallway, his little starfish
  • hand wriggling in mine, as he counts the numbered
  • doors — Ten, nine, eight he calls as I point to
  • a crow on the grass: Look Joe: bird— nothing doing,
  • he yanks me back to the doors, seven, six
  • as if he’s naming playmates. Inside my office
  • he makes a bee-line for the wall calendar, touches
  • the dates smiling. What Joe? What do you
  • see that I can’t? And I think of Daniel Tammet,
  • autistic savant, renowned mathematician, sitting on the hard floor
  • of his childhood London bedroom
  • away from the loud games of the others, reading numbers
  • in his Mr. Men books opened on his lap, how he
  • could see and feel them — the 4, shy and quiet, the loud 5
  • and brilliant white of 1 — reassuring, calming.
  • Joe hands me his favorite Three Blind Mice book
  • rubs the numbers on each page oblivious to my ridiculously
  • animated voice — I slap my hand fast over four
  • five and six, coaxing Joe to look at me
  • but he screams — his beloved numbers disappeared —
  • so I let the black seven, his favorite, link arms with eight and nine,
  • watch them spiral off the white page —
  • At night, under the covers Daniel, you counted
  • stopping each time at 89, nearly weeping,
  • as that most magical number’s achingly clean
  • snow fell in your mind, rocking you in beautiful silence.


Deborah Allbritain’s poems have appeared in Stand Up Poetry, The Unmade Bed, In the Palm of Your Hand, The Antioch Review, Autism Digest, and many other journals and anthologies. She works as a speech pathologist for the Poway Unified School District, where she specializes in students with autism spectrum disorder. “The Numbers” originally appeared in the San Diego Writers, Ink anthology.

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