These Hills Are My Ribs (Niko Boskovic)

Going Through These Motions Doesn’t Do Us Any Good, So Let’s Change the Teacher

Victimization may be the most overthought term
used to describe my people.
But what do you expect from the psychology of those
who locked us away?
Used straightjackets for tuxedos,
denied us our sex unless it was for their pleasure,
put us as babies into locked rooms
where no teachers ever bothered to lecture?

Simple minds were society’s running joke.
This lesson I absorbed at the age of three
and it continued until I learned
to communicate in my own words.
It was only when I challenged it
that the proverbial rug pulled out from under me,
white knuckles raw and chapped to the sleeves,
using every bit of courage
to not make a scene.

Mine was that old sob story:
Autistic Savant Goes to Washington.
I got into a school and learned to navigate
a place the others didn’t know —
How out of reach it should have been.

I connected with the colors
streaming out of my new peers’ emotions,
but with a twist in the details
that neglected to spell out
what I now had to pass up:

friends who understood
how lonely the neurotypical world is  
when you’re the only one of your kind in the room;
the quiet connection between autistic minds
which see as you do
that the world is a sensory playland
hampered by speech;
acceptance for exactly who you are
instead of revulsion, or worse, ignorance.

I live this lesson every day
and while I don’t regret my journey so far
I do wish for more chances
to dance around the fire of my tribe,
etch our marks of clan-hood
under our eyes for all to see,
marry the king’s daughter
to preserve the bloodline,
make ready the world
for a new species: Homo autisticus.

So, tutor me in the evening
with a penchant for revolution
and an ear on the rails
for the rumble of the coming train —
no peace train on the move, but a bullet train
ramping up for the long haul of efficient justice.
Serve it up the instant you are ready
to meet me in that mental space
where you truly see my struggles
and commit to change the lesson plan.

Half of your house won’t agree —
let’s prove them wrong.
Forge your iron will to meet the ringing bells
ushering in a new age.
Corrupt the curriculum
with the radical notion
that I am a person too.

These Hills Are My Ribs Underneath Which Beats My Heart

My life has been bordered
by a river to the west of us
down a steep ravine
across the gravelled train yard
that’s seen its share of suicides;
its other border mounted in rocks and snow
that I will probably never ski down
but enjoy while descending towards the airport.

In between, harvests of my childhood
make topiaries of regret:
there’s the park
where two boys filmed me playing
making fun of my ways with water —
with every ounce I wished them to hurt
physically, as deeply as my mind suffered.

Here’s the valley we drove through
to get to the pseudo-doctor
who made me sit in a sauna
and brainwashed my parents
into buying one for the basement,
into which I was tucked  
with my father every other night,
sweating imaginary toxins
out my five-year-old pores.

There’s my house
with bedroom turned playroom,
a one-way mirror in the door,
toys scattered among
the clipboard and progress notes.

It seems like another’s life
someone so messed up
that he will never walk alone
make love to someone who wants him to
know the power that comes with driving a car
find a real job from which to grow rich and bald
and have a litter of children to carry him on.

But it is all those things
in my landscape
that require my laughter now,
for the earth continues to be tilled,
seed spread the old-fashioned way
by hand in a wide toss,
my layers of fertile soil ripe
with the compost of yesterday’s regret
and warm land under my feet,
mycelium spreading from river’s edge to snowline.


Niko Boskovic is a 19 year old man who lives in Portland, Oregon and attends Portland Community College. He is a self-described low-speaking autistic who relies on a letterboard to communicate. Much of his childhood was spent in silent communion with nature, and it plays a central role in his poetry. Other themes include identifying as someone who is passionate about disability rights, foreign travels, and making minds roil with new perspectives about autistics’ capacities for loving the world when it doesn’t love us back. 

Niko writes a monthly blog for Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities, and has loved presenting at disability conferences, especially when there are parents in the audience. He also shares his poetry on his Facebook page; has been published in the zine, Your Neurodiverse Friend (Microcosm Publishing, 2019, Issue 3: Masking) and Montana Mouthful; and contributed an essay to the 2019 anthology, Leaders Around Me: Autobiographies of Autistics who Type, Point, and Spell to Communicate, edited by Edlyn Vallejo Peña.