David Perman

Autonomy

It’s a word that gets the mouth moving –
lips and tongue, tongue, lips,
a word I’ve just learned or relearned,
I suppose you’d say.
I liked it so much I looked it up,
found it was anchored to what I felt –
not like those free-floating words
the therapist woman throws at me:
lettuce, motorcycle, thermometer.
I read them all right but can’t see them.

I liked autonomy so I looked it up –
and was puzzled. ‘Self-rule’ yes, ‘Self-determination’ –
yes, that’s what I lived for, but ‘Independence’?
No, that’s where I differed from former friends:
the ones who went into exile to avoid arrest,
the others who talked of ‘taking back control’.
They saw me as an old fogy, a compromiser, a bag-peddler.
They lost of course but so did we all. The autonomy
we’d achieved over decades of hard work
was caught up in their defeat, floating off
with the bubbles of so-called freedom. It was
some time ago, of course, and normality
(as our new masters call it)
has been restored.

I remember all that because it’s me, a paradigm
of me – rescued from collapse, given a new life.
They rushed to my rescue – children, brothers, sisters,
therapists galore, even a concerned postman.
Changes were made: a regular cleaner,
hand-free gadgets, life-saving alarms.
The fridge was scoured of everything
past its sell-by date – quite right except that
I habitually shopped at the reduced displays.

How lucky I am, surrounded with love and attention.
Smiled upon by circumstance and fortune but –
there is a but. It’s not independence I miss:
no man is an island especially not in this interconnected world.
It’s autonomy, that word redolent of at least
feeling self-sufficient – something,
I’m told, I can no longer expect – after a stroke.