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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 4, December 2013

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Donna Buck
Beaumont, California, USA


Burlap

He is ten going on three; less than a week and he’s attached himself already! Behaviors we did not expect: sitting outside our door at five a.m.; talking ‘Martian’ when he is alone. The hoarding. Under his bed this morning—empty oatmeal boxes, dead batteries, oranges. He’s named my husband after his truck and the cloth he uses to wax it: Burlap Suburban. He rarely looks at or speaks to me. I’m the one who wanted kids.

It is mid-December. We’re on our way to Sedona to complete a renovation in Oak Creek Village. My new son is anxious as we cross the desert. Tomorrow, work begins on the log cabin house, and I worry about this boy I barely know being around welding equipment, chain saws. This morning as dad prepares to cut into the wall an elderly man passes slowly outside in the cold air. He moves in a halting, jerky manner. My boy laughs and makes a sign. Over coffee Burlap asks him whether he would go out in public if he were similarly afflicted. “No way!” my son cries, and they discuss scary things, courage . . . I see that he gets it; I marvel at this stern and distant husband who is such a gentle teacher.

I picture this—
after the last push
twin heartbeats
here now on my belly
a forever son

At back-to-school night, my son asks Burlap to wear a hat. “Ashamed of your old man already, kid?” There is none of our son’s work posted on any of the walls; the other parents read the room and comment on their children’s projects. When I inquire, the teacher shrugs: “He never finishes anything.” At family gatherings, everyone is cordial but our boy is seldom included in photos of the cousins. So I start a memory book: soon, pictures of the two of them, completing wood or welding projects. My son has amazing hands. A beautiful voice when he sings alone.

one space
remaining
on the museum wall
a docent checks the catalog
for the missing portrait

School is finally out. My 11-year-old lies huddled in a corner. He points to the hamster cage, his pet curled up and still. “Get Burlap! Get Burlap!” he says again and again as I dial. When dad arrives, my son cries inconsolably. They talk quietly in his bedroom, then go into the shop and make a tiny box, go out in the yard. The solemn burial. I make spaghetti.

a toy soldier
weapon ready
huddles in the grass—
sent into battle
without a chance

In autumn he shoplifts. Calls from teachers; I ask for special services without luck. Middle school. We reward successes with extra time with dad in the shop, and Lego kits. Puberty too soon; the rages. Family therapy. Too late; he’s ours. He’s Burlap’s.

family photo
posed beneath
a sacred icon
votive lights flicker
in red glass

After the first juvenile arrest, an aunt who hasn’t seen him for half his life shows up at the hearing and he decides to live with her. She calls me for advice; at 18 he moves away. The odd-hour calls, sometimes from jail, to his dad. He visits Burlap from time to time. I’m no longer there, but this doesn’t matter to a son who has no use for moms. Burlap keeps me posted and I am glad my boy at least has this dad. Every August I note the date of his birth. Each winter, I celebrate the day in December he first came home to us. When I became his shadow mom.

daylilies
in a green-glaze vase
Jizo shrine
whispers
of the wanderers


Author’s Note: Jizo in Japanese culture has come to be venerated as a protector of children, particularly those who have died early in life, or during or before birth.

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