Rebecca Foust

Dark Card

When they look at my son like that

at the grocery store check out

or at school assemblies,

I wait for the right moment, till they move

through laughter, raised eyebrows, clamped lips

—but before fear.  Then I switch gears,

go into my tap dance-and-shuffle routine.


Yes, he’s different, all kids are different, him

just a little bit more—oh, he’s knocked down

the applesauce pyramid?  So sorry, here,

my sleeves conceal napkins for messes like this,

and I can make them disappear.  But before I do,

make sure you marvel at how the jars

made an algorithm when he pulled that one free. 


Oh, he was standing on his desk again, crowing

like a rooster in your third-period class? 

Yes, bad manners, and worse luck

that he noticed how today’s date and the clock

matched the hour of what you taught

last week in a footnote—the exact pivotal

second of the Chinese Year of the Cock.


Before they get angry, I pull out my deck,

deal out what they want.  Yes, he’s different,

but look at his IQ score, his Math SAT! 

I’ve figured out that difference pays freight

when linked with intelligence; genius trumps odd,

alchemizes bizarre into merely eccentric.

So I play the dark card of the idiot savant, 


trotting out parlor tricks in physics and math: 

he sees solutions the way you might breathe!

Or perceive! The color green!  It’s my ploy

to exorcise their pitchforks and torches,

to conjure Bill Gates when they see him, 

or Einstein, not Kaczynski or Columbine;

perhaps they’ll think him delightfully odd


or oddly delightful, dark Anime eyes,

brow arc calligraphy on rice paper skin,

his question mark flowerstalk spine. 

But it’s a swindle, a flimflam, a lie,

a not-celebration of what he sees

with his inward-turned eye:

the patterns in everything—traffic, dirt piles,


bare branches of trees, matrices in jar stacks,

Shang Dynasty history in tick of school clock,

music in color and math, the way shoppers

shuffle their feet while waiting on line;

how he tastes minute differences between brands—

even batches-within-brands—of pickles and cheese;

how he sees the moonlit vole

on the freeway’s blurred berm.




“Dark Card” first appeared in Margie, Vol. 6, Fall 2007, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in December 2007..