Tuesday, November 20, 2018



NOS (disorder, not otherwise specified) by Aby Kaupang and Matthew Cooperman
(Futurepoem Press, New York, 2018)

Sometime in the spring of 2016, I was lucky enough to be at a reading by Aby Kaupang and Matthew Cooperman. Essay Press had recently electronically published their chapbook Disorder 299.00, an extraordinary collaboration documenting their experience as parents of a child with severe autism and frequent ill-understood life-threatening conditions. Since then, Disorder 299.00 has grown into the full-length book NOS. My writing these words — parents of, severe autism, life-threatening — immediately sets up a narrative which we automatically fall into because our culture sets it up that way. Kaupang and Cooperman do not fall into that narrative. They precisely delineate the(ir) exact experience(s), unmediated by normative narrative.

For example, a feeding tube:

a doctor strikes a hole
in our dtr’s abdomen
our mouths      the magnitude

her mouth was closed
I thought it was a moment &
& a pre-moment

but the passing of her closure isn’t yet

Chapters are organized as floors on a hospital, although they are not exactly: FLOOR ONE critical care; FLOOR TWO diagnostics; FLOOR THREE general hospital; FLOOR FOUR neuro-psych ward; FLOOR FIVE FOC [= father of child]; FLOOR SIX neuro-psych ward; FLOOR SEVEN MOC [= mother of child]; FLOOR EIGHT discharged.

Some stanzas can be recognized by anyone who has attended loved ones in a hospital:

they that wanted coffee    thousands must not have wanted coffee
they that were wanting     watched from the insular cart     they that
wanted were clairvoyants of sea tanks      tubing and cardiums

Some stanzas can be recognized by anyone who has attended critically ill loved ones in a hospital:

the truth of the hospital system is death prevention and sometimes death theft and the truth of the ER more so   so acuity    decreases in proportion to the degree of the field     therapy in the hospital then is polish    is a strategy of low tiers and sympathizers

And some are specific to small children with extreme disorders not otherwise specified:

to sleep or to know

to eat or to know

        to waiver to drug to measure to know

her twitches and zaps      eternal nights

our little girl       in a study of studies

      the floors the syringes      the wires the tours

gather the doctors together

Kaupang and Cooperman are aware of the ethical conflicts of such a book:

MOC: Matthew feels that to use one’s daughter as a “poetic” subject
is taboo. Forgive me then for publicly processing. I embarrass.

Speaking from experience, barely & newly, I pen out my exhaustions, my endless angers.

                      FOC: I forgive you nothing for there’s nothing to forgive.
          You are writing a boat to float upon, a car with enormous wings
                         to give us horizon. Maya is real and worth writing for.

[and then a footnote: “Unlike other forms of psychological disorders, the core issue in trauma is reality,” Bessel Van der Kolk] [reviewer’s footnote to the footnote: Van der Kolk is the author of The Body Keeps the Score, a highly recommended book about trauma]

They write

            it is our ethical duty to not escape

(note the quick change of font, one of many such subtle changes).

The poetry is accompanied by medical documentation, medical charts, questionnaires which may or may not be imagined (Patient _____ is in a letter-like form), and occasional photographs: of Maya herself — from the back, looking out of what seems to be a hospital window on an upper floor; from the front, on a lawn, always looking like what she is, a child — and various hospital surroundings.

Maya is not erased. She retains her particulars. Geese make her cry and climb you like a turret. She loves trains and train videos, of which there are many… She laughs at parallels like lampposts along a highway, and when there is clapping, clapping anywhere, she believes it is all for her.

Towards the end we learn that this book of love and observation, so generous to us, the readers who may or may not inhabit the land of FOC’s and MOC’s of children with severe disorders NOS, has had readers who weren’t sure you loved your daughter who “wanted to know more about her.” As if we didn’t. NOS is a gift wrenched from a landscape difficult to see clearly. I am grateful to Aby Kaupang and Matthew Cooperman for their painstaking work in bringing it to us.


Judith Roitman’s books are Roswell (theenk Books, 2018) and  No Face: Selected and New Poems (First Intensity, 2008). Her poems have most recently appeared in the tiny, December, Rogue Agent, Galatea Resurrects, E-Ratio, The Writing Disorder, Otoliths, Eleven Eleven, Horse Less Review, Talisman, and Yew. Her chapbooks include Slackline (Hank’s Loose Gravel Press), Furnace Mountain (Omerta), Ku: a thumb book (Airfoil Press), and Two: ghazals (Horse Less Press). She lives in Lawrence, Kansas.