Childhood Demons by Amber Koneval

Today, she pushed back.

I’m not sure why she did it,
or where it came from
but she pushed me.

She pushed me down a ditch
without even saying a word
no shouting, no screaming
as I fell, head over heels
down the ditch.

Weird little freak
always sitting in the backrow with her books
and her constant chatter
never stopping
she ran on all fours at recess
growled like a tiger, and chomped on weeds
she let her hair grow wild
and after the twin towers fell she tried
to dig a bomb shelter in the sandbox
like she could protect us.

She pushed me down a ditch
and when I ran back up the hill
I kicked her in the shins
and she pushed me back down
and shouted ‘Stay there’.

She was big, and loud
taller than all the other girls
and when you looked at her
she’d stare at the ground
and talk about the worlds inside her
head like you could touch them.
She was friend with the Peterson kid
who played with himself in class
and the teachers hated her for answering
questions they had never asked.
She sang with a voice deep and low
the voice of a woman-
it sounded terrifying.

She pushed me down a ditch
for the second time
and though I’d hit my eye on a
patch of ice and
I’d cut my arm and was bleeding
I came back up swinging,
palms out,
aiming for that too-full head of hers

So that I could knock the pity right out
of her face
she shouted ‘Stay down’
and I swung
hitting arms thick
from pressing down our hatred
and I swung
for the mouth that smiled even though
no one ever had a present for her
at the class parties
and I swung
as I wondered if I’d ever realized
just how delicate she was
standing firm, matching blow for blow
her face never once moving
I just wanted her to move

but she just kept hitting
striking with the heel of her hand
as if she could stamp me
as if sheer will could break me
she struck, struck, struck
at my hands, neck, head
steady, serious and constant
still swinging as the coach
grabbed her by the arm
and told her that this was
how you played capture the flag

and he saw me push Kirsten
in the ditch
and watched with pity as Amber
burst into tears
her knuckles and palms
bright red from contact
she was crying because they stung

because today, she pushed back-
and that was unforgiveable.


Written for an interesting prompt given by the president of my campus’ poetry club: Write a poem about your childhood from the eyes of one of your childhood bullies. Thought it would be a fun prompt/response to share.

Why I Write: About Autism

Another topic that comes up often in my poetry, whether or not it is specifically mentioned, is autism. I actually write about it a lot more than it may originally seem.  I have two named ‘Diagonsis: Autism Spectrum Disorder’ and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’; which are pretty straight forward. But I also have poems about it called ‘Alien’, ‘The Nothingness’, ‘Anxiety Attack’, ‘Eyes’….. things that aren’t specifically labelled as being about autism but most definately are.

I write these poems because they are me. I am an individual with high-functioning autism, also known as Asperger’s Syndrome (at least until 2014 when they are planning to absorb the diagnosis of AS into high-functioning autism completely). Things like meltdowns, breakdowns in communication, misunderstanding of social norms, bewilderment at the way ‘normal’ people behave, and a lack of understanding why ‘eyes’ are supposedly always a symbol for something good in poetry are things that I struggle with in real life.

The reason I don’t always label these types of poems as being poems about autism straight out is two-fold. For one, I wasn’t informally diagnosed until last year. We’ve always known that there was something a more than a little off about me in relation to other people, but for the longest time my mother just fought through it with me and did her best to help me understand other people while not erasing the essential person that I was, problems and all. When I started becoming more of a danger to myself and other people (autisic people, when they have meltdowns, aren’t acting out because they want attention- therefore they don’t make sure not to hurt themselves) my mother took me to a general doctor who diagnosed me with a strange mixture of social anxiety and OCD which he thought could have contributed to the compulsive self-harming behaviors that would happen when I had a breakdown. This was quite a stretch, and it would be at least three more years before we would find the answer that fit me to a T- and I was diagnosed by a friend who is a psychologist but, since I do well enough with my own coping strategies, we have not taken the time or the money to get it written down on paper. I know what I am, it doesn’t bother me, and I enjoy having a community with which I finally can fully relate to.

For two, my autism is a deep part of me. There’s no way I can just seperate the way my autism tinges my world, so why should I make all of my poetry that is specifically about my challenges with it seperate? Every poem I write is going to have a bit of that literalism that makes sense to me. It’s going to relate things that people normally associate with certain things (like love to looking into someone’s eyes) to things that I myself understand (like love to be fascinated with their teeth). It’s going to be a bit more straightforward, and anything that is written that seems abstract is something that I most definately had rooted in something physical that I had encountered, or an image that I had actually seen. It’s hard for me to make up whole new images. I can really only combine what I know.

Now I’m not putting this out there so that I can garner pity or followers just because God saw fit to slot me into this specific neurotype. In fact, I discourage that kind of behavior because it is paternalistic and just downright insulting. I am simply stating, once now and never again, that this topic does come up quite a bit in my poetry and that I’m not just writing about it because I know someone with it or read about it and thought that it would be a nice little topic to write about. When I write about it, these are things that actually happen/happened/and are happening to me.

So now you know.

Diagnosis: Autism Spectrum Disorder by Amber Koneval

when the moon was full and I ran outside

to howl at it

I knew then


when the books ran out of pages

because I’d stored them in my head

I knew then


when the teacher told me that I was bad

because I was right

I knew then


when mommy cried because she just couldn’t

get me to smile

I knew then

when the other children reached out to hold me

and I shattered, like salt

when the lonliness took hold of my shoulders

and I called it friend

when my eyes burned with the need to know

anything, everything, at all

so desperately that it made me blind to you

When I floated to the stars, and looked around

and saw I’d fallen into the wrong planet

I knew then


labelling me with a diagnosis, then

told me nothing

but perhaps, just maybe

you know now too

Amber Koneval

-A poem I wrote after talking to a bunch of other autistics on Wrong Planet.