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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 1

"Echolalia" and "Two Years"

written by

Olivia Swasey



How apt, then, to be named for my brother,

so like him I have always been.

Other names for me exist but his name

has lingered on my tongue long after the rest,

clinging to taste buds like aspartame.

Precocious preschooler turned inarticulate

at a sock seam, rainman.

Reads at four but will never touch suede

in all her years, rainman.

Anger and shame cut the tongue from my mouth

and I can communicate with only the body, rainman.

Bruises hidden in a hair line, rainman.

My world is a brazen bull, every touch a new blister,

every cry for help becoming wordless screams,

rainman, I have been broken down and built back up

with my eyes stitched to yours, rainman,

I have learned to live in the red-hot spaces, 

to speak with no tongue, only for you, only for you.

Rainman, rainman.


"Two Years"

She takes after her grandmother,

the girl who flinches when nothing shouts

in the library on a Wednesday afternoon.

You can see her tremble when she

lifts her hand to her mouth and bites

wet trenches into the meat

of her open palm, her eyes vacant,

broken windows in a haunted house.

She hears people speak through water,

their voices muddy, blurred,

and she nods, and nods.

She is not the type who should

be allowed to drive. Some people think

she might be better off in a room

with no windows.

She lies in the dirt, crepuscular,

opening and closing a long-nailed hand,

and listens to the ones who are not speaking.

She cannot hear her heart beating

over the gnawing of insects

that seems to come from everywhere.

Olivia Swasey is an autistic writer from Cleveland, Ohio. A graduate of Kent State University, she holds a BA in English. She is passionate about LGBT and disability rights activism, and is active in her Jewish community. She has been previously published in Luna Negra Magazine and Brainchild Magazine. She can be found on Twitter, @oliviaw_swasey.

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