Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 3, September 2010

Richard Straw
Cary, North Carolina, USA



She's elderly and stocky, with gray hair in a bun. She lives alone a half-dozen houses down a tree-lined street from my parents' home in an Ohio factory town. Hers is a small, brown-shingled two-story with a covered front porch that has vine-covered latticework facing the street. In cold weather, her front door and windows are only partially veiled by the vines. My sister and I pass by her house as we go to and from the playground and our classes at the nearby elementary school.

the spring hikers
a shut-in's eyes

She and my mom must be acquaintances from church because early one summer, after I join the Boy Scouts, mom tells me that the widow wants me to put in a backyard garden for her. What type of garden is up to me, within reason, and for my pains I can earn part of a merit badge and perhaps $10, not a small sum to pay a boy, especially for someone old on a fixed income, although my mom's church circle may be the ones who pay, not her.

backyard grass
wet with ancient dew

When I'm not playing yard games at dusk with neighbor kids or bicycling alone to a limestone quarry on the north side of town, where I'm not supposed to be, I hoe a small, flat square of the widow's lawn near an apple tree until it's free of grass, pebbles, weeds, and a few resistant roots. Into this rich black plot, I position feathery ferns and pansies. I add a short encircling wall of scavenged rocks and quartzes, broken pieces of slate sidewalk my dad recovers from the street widening in front of our home, and smelly, colored glass bottles dropped like Easter eggs near the widow's garage and in the dirt alley behind her rhubarb patch.

off in a corner
by wild border foliage
small sage tree

The widow brings me lemonade on hot afternoons and waves with a girlish smile from her open kitchen window as I turn the earthworm-thick soil with her trowel. When I ask about her much later, my mom tells me that the widow has passed away and that her house is now home to one of her children who has come back to stay.

smooth sumac fruit
widow and widower
near the church door


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