In A Prayer for a Non-Religious Autistic (Mason Jar Press), Lucas Scheelk (they/them) uses a variety of experimental forms in addition to litany, epistolary, and elegiac poetry to portray the intricacies of life for neurodivergent people. Introducing the book is a list of disclaimers/content/trigger warnings for readers and following it is the preface in which Scheelk describes their diagnosis, conversion to Judaism, grief, and mental health––all of which are necessary to experience the poetry and its themes to the fullest extent. A Prayer for a Non-Religious Autistic is everything that a book of poetry should be; Scheelk offers first-hand accounts of the effects of misdiagnosis, queer identity, and the intersections of these as an autistic person.
Among my favorite poems was the first list of reasons to stay alive, “Eighteen Reasons to Stay Alive” and my favorite of the eighteen were consecutively 12, 13, and 14. (29-30).
- Breaking the cycle of asking-for-too-much and being-too-much, so then I never again have to ask myself why messages go unanswered (even if I’m not forgiven)
- Fellow autistic people carry my words with them like armor and prayers
- Saving up to get a lemon tattoo on my First Born; a different kind of kiss; this time, it is a promise
Another was “Containers Labeled Someday” which describes the mentality of a transgender/non-binary person pre-physical transition and consequently the negative cognitions and self-worth that often accompanies that period in a trans person’s life. This poem so excellently expresses the ache of wanting a body that you were not born with; so much of pre-physical transition can be made up of “somedays” as Scheelk’s poem describes, “I encountered a prescription of testosterone in a container labeled SOMEDAY, and for a moment, I mistook it for someone else’s” (37). The last lines of the poem are a poem of their own, “I’d settle for not getting misgendered as is / I don’t want my death to be the occasion to disclose the newest evolution of my self-love” (38).
There is found-kinship, recovery, and advocacy between each line of every poem; A Prayer for a Non-Religious Autistic is for all of us willing to explore new things (and most certainly offers encouragement for those who are not). At the end of the book, Scheelk provides a list of self-vetted disability resources and encourages readers to educate themselves regarding disability. I will forever return to this collection for the wit, the grief, and the friendship that Scheelk’s words have offered.