You prefer the murk of details to the vision complete,
incident to plot,
incidental to mainstream. You like books for hilarity
halfway down page 17,
oblivious to consequence. You don’t care who lived
happily ever after
or how a mystery is solved, and closure is important
only for the satisfaction
of completion. All this is why, on the number 12
heading for your ninth
birthday party, I eavesdrop on the conversation
behind us –
how a conceptual artist assembled a giant egg
from ten thousand
eggshell pieces – and imagine you building an egg
each selected according to your personal aesthetic,
fascinated by the fit
they make, the gaps and incongruities, building
patiently for weeks
until an egg the size of a bus wobbles on a tiny cup.
How does it end?
An ending would be a betrayal. Already you have
begun the next egg.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2013. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2013 was David Robinson.
In this poem, we are told that the poet’s autistic child has no interest in conclusions or resolutions but is fascinated by the incongruous and by accidental links. It is precisely such an incongruous, accidental link that prompts the thought that lies behind the poem. Empathy, in other words, is structurally embedded in the poem from the start. By the end, the poet has suggested that it’s the unfinished part of the hypothetical eggshell-assembly task that would differentiate his child from the rest. This is said without self-pity or mawkishness, just acceptance, and this restraint is part of the poem’s power.
‘Consequential Egg’ is the final poem in a sequence of eleven poems grouped together under the heading Autistic Variations. This constitutes the mid-section in a book concerned with the search for contentment (and its discontents) and reflects on the effects of autism on family life.
The poem begins with personal observations on autism, some of which may surprise people unfamiliar with the condition, although autism does vary with each individual. It then tells a true story and closes on an imagined one. The long line/short line couplets seemed right for the theme, an irregular yet consistent pattern; the only stricture was that the short lines really had to stand as lines of poetry and not simply as if they’d been chopped from the long lines.
The poem ends on a note of hope, but also on fragility and uncertainty, which felt entirely true to me and, I hope, to readers.