In 1851, Dr. Samuel Cartwright called it drapetomania:
It creates within the Negro an uncontrollable desire to escape.
It is a disease firmly bound to freedom.
My mind sets sail toward Levi.
Ten years ago, the neurologist cast autism like a giant fishing net over his brain.
Took the entire family under the tide with it.
Never said gift.
maybe my Levi’s words weren’t rusty anchors
like the rest of ours.
You think you can see right through them,
but it’s because you’re only watching the surface.
His mind is more like the world’s most extravagant circus
all trapeze and lion teeth
drum beat and riotous laughter
a staccato hymn
in the midst of a world
that has forgotten how to value silence.
When did we start doing Dr. Cartwright’s work for him?
Christopher Baker, a boy from Lexington, Kentucky—
his teacher stuffed him in a duffel bag and left him there for twenty minutes.
When his mother burst through the classroom doors
fell like a tiny revolution from her mouth
overturning the silence
they will come for you too.
They will tell you to work, and lift, and laugh on cue
smile big, smile pretty
bicep and jackhammer spark
Call the pretty girls ugly
and mean it with all of your heart.
Your scribbles are just scribbles
don’t dare call them art. Don’t dare be enigma.
There is no space for your kind of beautiful here.
No room for those Nat Turner visions
spinning shackles into vapor.
We have seen what can happen when a mind goes unchained.
He’s not sick.
His mind is an unmapped archipelago
every idea a former slave gone free
When they say your neurons are a crime, little brother
tell them this, for me.
Tell them that Levi
is shorthand for
That your calling is to the clouds
and you are simply too busy having a conversation
with God right now.
—a genius with jellyfish for words,
a divine poem destined for the sky—
Smile for them. Smile big, smile pretty.
Teach their wounded souls how to fly.
Joshua Bennett is a third-year doctoral candidate in the English Department at Princeton University, Callaloo Fellow and, as of this summer, teacher of 8th grade Composition. He has recited his original work at events such as the Sundance Film Festival, the NAACP Image Awards, and President Obama’s Evening of Poetry and Music at the White House. Joshua’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, Muzzle, Poetry Northeast & Disability Studies Quarterly. When he is not writing or performing, Joshua spends much of his time watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix and practicing his free throws. He currently shoots about 62% from the line. He’s working on it.