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The Curious “Constellation” of Autism

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The allistic world seems to think about autism as a single, profound thing that adversely affects the brain and makes it do the wrong thing. But we know autism as a way of being that affects the totality of our experience, and we reject the idea that Autistic people are defective humans whose brains are simply malfunctioning. In fact, it seems that there is a particular set up of very specific characteristics that affect many of us, and these characteristics lie beyond the cardinal traits of autism itself. I tend to think of these as “add-ons” to autism. They may certainly pose challenges to us, but they are not necessarily or completely a detriment. And they’re not entirely defined or described as being part of being autistic, despite the significantly higher rates of these very specific comorbidities in autistic individuals.

So what types of things are part of the “constellation” of autism?

Sensory Processing Differences

Firstly, I believe we must address sensory processing differences. Because, in my eyes, it is definitely considered an autistic thing that a multitude of us experience, but it’s not necessarily evaluated in a diagnostic setting. However, it’s certainly possible that non-autistic people have sensory processing differences, and they may even receive a diagnosis of SPD, or Sensory Processing Disorder, or a different type of sensory difference. It is very well known that many autistic people process sensory information differently than typical non-autistic people do. Our difficulty with environments that include loud noises, many people talking at once, bright lights, background noise, and the like are almost stereotypical at this point due to how common these issues are. And because our meltdowns and shutdowns are often considered so shocking and inappropriate by allistics (non-autistics), the allistic (non-autistic) world seems to have taken note of “sensory overload”. Sensory regulation is very difficult for many of us, so autistic people can use strategies like noise cancelation or noise reduction headphones, dark sunglasses, and stimming to help process sensory information with less distress and discomfort.

Mental Health Disabilities

Next, we will talk briefly about mental illness. Autism is not a mental illness; it is a neurodevelopmental disability. However, autistic people have high rates of comorbid mental illness. This can include a multitude of mental health disabilities, including OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), forms of depression and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders (very high rates), and countless others. This does not mean that there is anything inherently wrong with Autistic people or the brains of Autistic people. More likely is that ableism, prejudice, shame, abuse, bullying, trauma, and other factors contribute to the likelihood of dealing with mental health disabilities during one’s lifetime, combined with some degree of predisposition. Mental health disabilities may also be more common in Autistic people due to differences in the way that Autistic people process, regulate, and understand their emotions. While it is not a mental illness but a neurological disability often mistaken as a mental illness, Tourette’s Syndrome can also co-occur with autism.


This next point is related to the Sensory Processing Differences that are mentioned above. Poets sometimes talk very mystically about how the senses could be perceived in novel ways, but many Autistic people literally do perceive the senses unlike others typically do. A large number of Autistic people have the neurological trait of Synaesthesia. In short, Synaesthesia is often described as the senses in the brain being “crossed,” resulting in people who can taste music, strongly sense that numbers have a gender and personality, perceive the letters of the alphabet as each having an individual color, and many many other possibilities in how one can understand the world through a unique wiring of the brain. I don’t think it’s clear exactly how this particular set up of the brain relates to the set up of the autistic brain, but it is certainly fascinating that such a high number of us see the world so uniquely.


Epilepsy — a number of neurological disabilities that produce seizures — are not well understood, unfortunately. I believe this is one of the worst things that can co-occur with autism. I personally do not experience epilepsy, as a disclaimer. Seizures can be very dangerous, and even though some medications can help treat epileptic conditions, there is no real cure and not everyone can be helped by medication. Some people seek treatment through surgery or diet changes to try to control their seizures. It is also important to avoid triggers for seizures, such as lights (bright lights, flashing lights, patterns, etc.), lack of sleep and fatigue, drinking alcohol, certain foods, and certain noises. Epilepsy can also be deadly, and avoiding triggers and getting adequate treatment is no joke.

ADHD, known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

A person can be Autistic and have ADHD. Like autism, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disability: a case of the brain functioning in a different way than is typical. It isn’t inherently bad, but — as with autism — people who have ADHD face challenges based on how they learn, perceive things, process information, and understand themselves and the world. While the treatment of ADHD is controversial, it does not negate the fact that ADHD exists. As with autism, no one knows the exact cause of ADHD for certain, but both are generally believed to be mostly genetic by those who subscribe to the neurodiversity paradigm. Like autism, ADHD has its own cluster of

Forms of Hypermobility and Connective Tissue Disorders

In the general population, people who experience these forms of hypermobility (ranging from hypermobility syndrome to more severe connective tissue disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) are very, very rare. Yet in the Autistic population, the rates are a lot higher, resulting in many instances of these traits among us. (And that is with frequent under-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of these disorders!) Hypermobility and connective tissue disorders are genetic. They do not go away with age, and they can become worse over time. As it progresses, it can make it hard for people to walk normally or to walk very far, and it can cause them a great deal of pain. Such disorders involve problems with overly flexible joints and ligaments. In addition, the skin itself may be affected. It can be unusually stretchy, unusually fragile, or bruises or scars in an atypical way. In very severe manifestations of the illness, the cardiovascular system can be affected in serious — and even life-threatening — ways.

Prosopagnosia (Face-blindness)

Have you heard of prosopagnosia? Did it sound like a strange way to experience the world that was hard for you to imagine? Many Autistic people don’t need to imagine, because this is normal for us! Prosopagnosia is the name for a neurological condition also called face-blindness: it is an impaired ability to recognize faces. Some people acquire face-blindness through a brain injury, a brain lesion, or some other problem with the brain, but Autistic people who are face-blind have a kind of prosopagnosia that they were born with. When we look at a person’s face, it’s not that we see a void or a black hole or something outlandish like that; we simply do not have the same recognition system for faces that people without prosopagnosia have. As a result, it’s hard for us to interpret, map, process, and recall faces. But if don’t recognize people the same way most do, how do we know who’s who? The answer is, sometimes we don’t! For example, I often see people in town who recognize me and come up to me to say hello. Problem is, I typically have no idea who they are! But, there are some strategies to help identify a person when you don’t recognize them. For example, the thing that helps me recognize a person the most is their hairstyle and hair color. Aside from that, I also use their height, body shape, clothing, and gait to help determine who they are. Strategies like that can help, but they are not infallible. Prosopagnosia provides a challenge to many people in many instances, but essentially it is a different way of seeing the world around you.

Other ideas

This has been a summary of just a few of the parts of the “constellation” that can extend from autism. Some can be incredibly difficult and pose serious health hazards, such as Epilepsy or Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, while others can be more intriguing, such as the unusual sensory perceptions of Synaesthesia. Other ideas about characteristics related to autism include sleep disorders, learning differences, and gastrointestinal problems, however we have not discussed these in depth here. Some are considered controversial, such as the possible connection between gastrointestinal disorders and autism. It is important to note that none of the things we discussed in this post or mentioned in this paragraph cause autism — for example, gastrointestinal disorders do not cause autism. The various characteristics described here are simply very likely to co-occur with autism. It is a testament to the very complex and unique way that every autistic brain functions and forms connections. With regard to the severe health hazards posed to Autistic people by conditions like Epilepsy and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, we must emphasize that this is where funding for quality scientific research needs to go. It must be diverted away from “validating” torturous therapies, looking for “cures”, and seeking ways to detect autism in the womb in order to avoid the birth of Autistic people, and rerouted ASAP towards helping actual Autistic people with the multitude of challenges we face in this world, including the serious health conditions that can co-occur alongside our autism.




“The Accountant” Review

Hello, friends. It’s time to talk about movies. Tonight I suffered through “The Accountant” because I received free admission. When I originally posted about this movie — warning that it sounded a hell of a lot like a bunch of really bad messages about autism — I foresaw that some might insist that they could only listen seriously to someone who actually saw the movie. So in the interest of providing a real review, I decided to take the plunge and watch this movie for you all.
[TW: discussion of ableist film and ableist language]
***I must warn you that this film is neither very sensory-friendly or epileptic-safe. There are several scenes of very disorienting patterns throughout the film, and there are multiple scenes involving a rapidly flashing, very bright light. Please take precautions if you choose to watch this film.***
From the previews and trailers, here’s what we know about this film before going to see it: “Christian Wolff (played by Ben Affleck) is some kind of genius savant. He’s brilliant at accounting and his unparalleled skill at mathematics means that he can work for some of the most morally dubious characters the world has to offer and successfully uncook the books. But get this — he’s also a deadly assassin and a force to be reckoned with.”
The character of Christian Wolff is coded as and explicitly referred to as autistic. But this movie isn’t about autism. This movie is really about toxic masculinity, child abuse, violence, stereotyped portrayals of disabled people, and truth vs. bullshit. I really don’t think any of that was intentional. I would bet you that the people who made this film believe it has a sincere message about autism and neurodiversity, set against a backdrop of exciting action scenes. Yet the reality is nothing like that. It largely fails to create an interesting storyline, compelling characterization beyond hackneyed tropes and painful stereotypes, and an original enough plot so as not to be predictable or strongly reminiscent of other specific movies. The cinematography is also poor, with many scenes involving mostly shadows fighting where you cannot even tell who is who in the encounter.
While watching this movie, I wanted to leave very early on. Not just because of the whole autism problem here, but simply because it wasn’t very interesting. I’m a big fan of movies about crime and these are often pretty violent and definitely full of action. “The Accountant” was seriously lackluster. Casting was really boring. Everyone was white except for one character. The casting was heavily male-dominated, with men driving nearly all — if not all — of the action. Even the lone female major character was only involved because she was being blackmailed and the love interest was only involved because she was the love interest (and therefore there for the male gaze). The only disabled people in this movie were a group of amputees receiving new robotic prosthetic limbs — essentially “getting missing pieces to make them whole” as the film’s characters say (This is hardly an appropriate way to talk about physically disabled people!) — and the small handful of autistic people pictured in the film, the major one being Christian Wolff, of course.
So let’s talk about Wolff. As a young child, the main character is shown at a neurodevelopmental center putting together a puzzle while his parents talk to a specialist. The specialist obliquely tells Wolff’s parents that their child has autism, though the specialist does not believe in using labels for some reason. The prognosis seems to enrage the father, who says he won’t let Wolff learn at the center for the summer, in favor of relentlessly training him (abusing him) to be a homicidal machine. At the center, we see another example of an autistic person, a young woman named Justine, who seems to be intended to show a “shocking”, “scary”, and “low-functioning” side of autism. This literally only means that she is sitting in a chair stimming frequently and openly, but I don’t think many people in the audience actually understand stimming enough to know that it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Justine. To them, I think the intent is to show how “mysterious” and “confusing” we are.
“The Accountant” is beyond exploitative. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone thought up some buzzwords like “autism” and “assassin” and decided to try to combine it into a totally misshapen and disrespectful film. This movie may have been intended to be “about” autism, but it’s definitely not written with an autistic audience in mind. In this respect, it is literally painful. The worst thing about “The Accountant” is that Wolff’s autistic traits and behaviors are played either for shock or for laughs. The most horrible thing I’ve witnessed in a long time is the actual audience LAUGHING whenever Wolff does things like misunderstand a joke, answer a rhetorical question literally, etc. It’s not like this is comedic in any sense. Wolff is clearly not trying to make a joke and/or is having difficulty with something, causing stress. It’s truly not funny. And I’m not going to publicly discuss how this affected me, but I will say that it did affect me deeply.
So aside from creating a character whose autistic traits (bluntness, literal thinking, misunderstanding communications, having trouble with emotions and facial expressions, etc.) are mocked as comedy by the very audience — thank you, Gavin O’Connor and Bill Dubuque — there’s the whole thing where they literally went and made Christian Wolff a violent assassin. Were autistics already dealing with the blame for many acts of violence and school shootings? You bet. So you can bet we’re fucking thrilled that Hollywood has gifted us another stoic, emotionless, killing machine. Movies aren’t just movies, kids. Media is critical to how we emotionally, socially, and intellectually understand many issues.
The movie does a weird thing at the end — it tries to have a message. So we’ve watched countless people die and a gazillion rounds of ammunition have been exhausted and everyone’s had a chuckle or two because autistic people are such “freaks” (the movie’s wording, not mine), and now we find out that autistics are special and wonderful and you have to help them. Oh, and they legit drop scare-statistics about autism. I cringed so hard.
So is this movie redeemed because Christian Wolff is a genius? I would answer with a hearty “fuck no”. It’s yet another trope that reduces us to special abilities, and turns our lives into spectacle for the non-autistic-gaze. We don’t need any special savant skills to prove our worth to you. We are enough, just being ourselves. It’s high time Hollywood knew this.

Making Art Out of a Meltdown: Octopus Artwork by Beth

We are glad to share with you today the artwork of contributor Beth, who is 20, self-diagnosed Autistic, and lives in Arizona. She is working as a respite caregiver and studying to become a nurse.

Beth says about her artwork: “I started drawing this when I was starting to go into a meltdown this weekend and then for kicks I made another one and gifed them both. This is what a meltdown and shutdown feels like to me. Fun fact: an octopus will often turn red when angry and white when scared.”

[IMAGE 1: A greyish octopus at the center of the image is surrounded by a cloud of grey ink and grey circles, as a swarm of sharks, angler fish, and piranhas close in on the octopus. The image gives a sense of fear and alarm.]

[IMAGE 2: A red octopus at the center of the image is surrounded by an explosion of colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, as a swarm of sharks, angler fish, and piranhas close in on the octopus. The image gives a sense of intense emotion and sensory overload.]unnamedunnamed-2

Senses of the Spectrum: An Autism Experience [Video]


TW: for mention of suicide!

This video was created by Drew Lytle, an autistic student who put together this video to “show autism in the most literal way possible, not just those experiencing the symptoms but actually show them in a way for those not familiar to understand”.

Drew says about the film: “The college it was shot at is the college I’m currently attending, The Evergreen State College in Olympia WA.  Being part of a year long program, we where given the task of doing one final project accumulating what we had learned.  After seeing multiple films that resulted in a very therapeutic and self-aiding process for others and their struggles, I decided I would explore Autism with mine since I myself was Autistic.  Going on the idea of wanting to show Autism in a different way then usual, I came up with ideas of using an extremely visual way of showing the experiences.  In order to tie them together, I looked to a style of editing used by legendary avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren from the 40s (look her up, she was ahead of her time).
For allistic and neurotypicals, my goal was for them to watch it and simply be told about autism or see a scenario in which explains it to them, but to show them in a way that they see it and know exactly what that symptom is.  For those who are on the spectrum, I had two main goals; to let them know they aren’t alone and others know the feeling & to expose them to other aspects of Autism they might not experiences (not all in the film I can say I know first hand).
For me personally, the creation of this project brought about relief and joy knowing I can finally say through this what it’s like to be me to the world.”

We hope you enjoy, and we are proud to present this film for your viewing!


A Sci Fi Story by Bethany S. on the theme of Communication

There were some things Melody  could not talk about. Things that were not meant to be talked about. Like numbers having colors, or the pictures she saw in the ceiling design at night. Nobody else mentioned those things, so clearly those, and other things, were not meant to be spoken of.

Other things were too hard to talk about. Like feelings. Melody hated the question, “How are you?” What kind of question was that? A state of being was far too subjective to define verbally. Usually when people asked that question (too often!) Melody replied, in a rather robotic-sounding voice, “I’m fine, how are you?” It was a game she used to play with her mom. “How are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” “I’m fine, how are you?” They would keep repeating the same thing, giggling.

All Melody ever wanted to talk about was aliens and astronauts and outer space. But she wasn’t allowed to do that. Her mom and the teacher at school from the Social Skills group tried patiently to explain that there were rules to conversations. Social Rules. Apparently, you weren’t supposed to keep talking about the same thing. You had to only say a little bit, and then give the other person a chance to talk. Then, when it was your turn again, you had to talk about what the other person was talking about. It was rude to switch back to your favorite subject. Why was it rude? It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense!

Melody was walking home from the bus stop. Thank goodness, school was over. It had been a terrible day. They had to team up in groups for a project, but the other kids in her group teased her until she felt scared. She tried to hide in the closet, but she didn’t really fit and then she got in trouble with the teacher because it turned out students were not meant to  be in the closet. It was too hard to explain why she tried to hide in the closet, so she got upset and started banging her head on the desk. Everyone laughed at her, and now she would have to explain to her mom why there was a bruise on her forehead. Again. Not to mention the kids on the bus who called her names when they saw her rocking back and forth. Everything was always the same, would always be like this.

It was not very far to her house from the bus stop, but she had to go right past a couple of very noisy dogs. They were fenced in so they couldn’t hurt her, but the loud barking was scary. Melody looked up at the sky so she wouldn’t look at the dogs and make them bark even more. What was that? There was a strange light in the sky, like a star. It was not the sun. But stars weren’t visible in the daytime! What could it be? Maybe it was aliens! Logically, Melody knew aliens weren’t real, but that didn’t stop her from daydreaming about it. At school, people laughed at how she perked up and started flapping her hands every time someone mentioned the word ‘alien’ or ‘outer space’. No one understood the joy she felt.

Now she was home. Look at that, I made it past the dogs, she thought. Home felt safer than school. Melody grabbed a few chips from the bowl on the dining room table and went to her room, the one place that felt the safest. She had a beanbag chair and a lamp that changed colors in her room.

The afternoon passed without incident. The only homework she had was math, and that was easy. Before long, it was time to go to bed. But Melody couldn’t sleep. Sometimes it was easy to sleep, and sometimes it was impossible. She never could tell which it was going to be at any given night. Melody stared out the window by her bed. She could see the backyard, more clearly in the darkness than usual. The stars were bright tonight. Especially one star that seemed to glow pink. Wait a minute! That was the star from before, the one that had been visible even in the daylight. And it was moving! Falling, like a shooting star, growing bigger – no, closer. Where was it going to land? It looked like it was landing in the backyard, but it couldn’t possibly be. When something fell from the sky, you never could tell where it was going to land. It never landed where it looked like it was going to land, that was the rule. She forced herself to  bury her face in her pillow, and eventually fell asleep.

Melody woke up even before the alarm clock went off. For a split second she was confused, and thought maybe she had had a particularly good dream. Then she remembered – the shooting star! It was real! She quickly got dressed and brushed her hair. If she got ready for school early, maybe there would be time to see where the thing landed. Her backpack was already packed, so she got a breakfast bar to eat, grabbed her backpack and went out the door. She had a whole half hour before it was officially time to leave  for the bus stop. Instead of going out the front door, she went out the back door to the backyard. The sun was just starting to come up. Quickly, eagerly, she ran across the yard. What was this? No, it was too good to be true! Right in the middle of the yard, there it was. A giant pink sphere, faintly glowing. Should she touch it? Cautiously, Melody touched the glowing sphere with one finger. It popped. Suddenly, she felt confused, as if she was in a strange place. Standing before her was a human-shaped figure, about her size. An alien! What else could it be? The alien was pale blue, with two indentations for eyes and a hole for a mouth. “Hello,” Melody said. Oh, if she could communicate with a real-life alien, that would be the coolest thing ever. She started to jump up and down and flap her hands.

“Hello,” the alien replied, in Melody’s voice. She felt another surge of joy, one that was not her own. A joy at being able to communicate. Maybe this creature, whatever it was, could transfer his own feelings to her so she felt them. It was the most plausible explanation. Maybe he was telepathic! For an experiment, she tried thinking of the color green. The alien’s color changed from pale blue to a green that was the same shade as the number 6, the color she was thinking of! His eyes were still pale blue.

“You can change colors!” Melody exclaimed. The alien echoed her, with the same voice she used. “Can you talk,  or just repeat what I say?” she asked. The alien echoed her again. This wouldn’t work. It was time to try a new tactic. Melody squinched up her eyes and thought hard. She thought, with a picture in her head, about the alien repeating the last thing she said. Then she thought about herself thinking of a thing to say, and then saying it. Lastly, she thought of the feeling she had when asking a question. Would this work?

She felt the alien grasping at the concept of the difference between original speech and repeating the last thing she said. “Lu moy?” The alien said this in a voice that was not Melody’s, a voice that was like clear water. “You can talk!” Melody had the idea to teach the alien to speak English. Or, she could learn its language. “My name is Melody,” she said aloud, pointing to herself and thinking of the sound ‘Melody’ permeating her entire being.

The alien pointed to itself and said “Lu” in the clear-water voice. “Your name is Lu?” Melody asked. She felt a tugging at her mind, and then Lu said, “Yesss.”

“Wow! Did you read my mind for that word?”


“Cool! Are you from another planet?” She thought a picture of  the planets in the sky, Earth, Mars, Jupiter.


“Why did you come here?”

“Lu . . . no words.”

“That’s okay. You can show me.” Melody thought a picture to Lu, a rather complicated one. She was trying to get Lu to think a picture to her. “Like this.”

“Yesss.” Strange pictures entered Melody’s mind. A world where the ground was covered in blue fuzz sort of like grass. Lots of people (aliens?) like Lu, in all different colors gathered together under a pink sky. All of them touched minds, like Lu was doing with her. But Lu’s thoughts were strange and slow to the others, and they all laughed. The feeling was all too familiar to Melody. Lu wrapped himself in a pink bubble and floated through space, trying to find another world where he would be accepted.

Oh, dear. Melody often felt like an alien, but whatever she felt, she was human. If this world did not accept her for who she was, how could it accept Lu? How could she explain to him that he couldn’t stay?

Melody thought another picture to Lu, one of the kids at school laughing at her for being herself. One of everyone knowing aliens weren’t real. I don’t fit in here, she was saying. Neither will you. It made her sad. She wanted nothing more than for Lu to stay and be her friend, but how could that ever work? She couldn’t hide him from her parents or take him to school with her. Sadly, she thought a picture to Lu of him making another pink bubble and leaving.

“Why?” Lu asked. It seemed like he was getting  better at talking, but maybe some words were just easier.

“I have to go to school.”


“No, you can’t come with me. Not unless you can make yourself invisible?”

Lu thought a feeling of confusion. Melody thought a picture of him, unable to be seen. “Can you do that?”


“What am I going to do with you? If people see you, they’ll freak out!”

A picture of her, Melody. Of Lu doing . . . what? Fusing with her? That was what the thought-picture looked like. Wouldn’t that be cool! If she could have Lu with her wherever she went, and nobody knew!

“Do it!” She thought the picture back to Lu.

Melody saw Lu dissolve into a liquid cloud, pale blue like water. Then it surrounded her. It felt funny but didn’t hurt. The feeling was like water under her skin, but nothing was visible. Are you there? she thought.

Yes, Lu thought back.

Let’s go to school! Melody thought.

That day, in Social Skills group, Melody didn’t talk much. She was too busy talking mentally with Lu. “You’re very quiet today. How are you feeling?” the teacher asked.

“I . . . feel . . . happy,” she answered. It was still hard to identify feelings, but she had an idea. She could teach Lu the words for feelings and he could help next time!

“What makes you happy?”

“I have a friend.”

“Melody, that’s great! Who is your new friend?”

“He’s an invisible alien.”

“Oh.” The teacher sounded disappointed.

“Just kidding!” she said, and everyone laughed. Melody felt that everything was going to  be okay.

Stimming Unpuzzled: A Visual Piece by clevergal10

[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Image is a grey square separated into 4 sections like a comic. The first section has text reading, “Stimming is one of the only forms of exercise that I enjoy.” Below the text are two stick figures. The stick figure on the left is flapping their arm, which the other stick figure is sweating out of embarrassment. Text pointing to the second stick figure reads, “My little sister hates me.” The second section of the comic reads, “I express myself using stimming. Stimming is part of my body language. I love stimming.” Below this text is a smaller stick figure that is smiling. A thought bubble reads, “I don’t care what you think of me.” Red text at the bottom of the square reads, “I am going to do what I want.” The third section of the image reads, “Most of the time.” There are two stick figures facing each other. The one on the right says, “Please can I stim?” while the figure on the left says, “Stop stimming because you look insane when you stim.” The figure on the right is sad while the figure on the left is angry. The fourth section of the image reads, “Stimming is awesome!” in red text, next to a smiley face. White text at the base of the image reads: “By Tumblr User: clevergal10.”]


Stimming Unpuzzled: A Poem by Jordan Chase

my fingers are like insects –

twitching flies ready to live

because come nightfall

their bodies will fall



bu the night never comes –

there is always light here

unless i’m forced to see

just how disgusted

others grow

with me.


dawn breaks into starlight

as i am cast into the dark

cage of my body being

forced to bottle

my motion

until i



to bottle a supernova

is as foolish as it is