It’s too early for frost but there it is: a cocoon
wrapping all of the windowpanes. I make a soup,
the boy plays by my feet. Too still to be a real child,
he builds worlds from books and bottlecaps.
I stand in the doorway when I miss my father,
and if he is sleeping I stand near the bed.
For days now the sharks have circled his bed.
I hum Top 40 hits and want to shake him, but cocoon
him instead; swaddled in his quilt, my father
keens like a motherless infant and spits up his soup.
At night my son builds fairy-rings from bottlecaps
around both of our beds and I rock the child
gently, although he’s too old. When I was a child
my father told huge stories while I readied for bed:
of ships full of boys playing jacks with old bottlecaps,
of slant-eyed pirates, paper worms in cocoons.
They lived weeks at a time on mock-oranges and soup,
and my father was one of them, when he wasn’t my father.
Child-time has crocodile teeth, and when my father
moved in he grilled lunch and killed bears. I was the child
again, playing secret message in my alphabet soup,
or a little older, up all night smoking and reading in bed—
and the cancer hung, a large translucent web, a cocoon
I unwove during evenings all year. We tossed bottlecaps
into the yard. We’ll grow a beer forest, he said. Bottlecaps
gleamed like wishes in the moonlight and I loved my father,
smiled when the boy appeared, all wrapped up in sleep’s cocoon.
Today, though, I worry over them both. My child
draws sharks on the windowpanes and cries when I put him to bed.
My father flails, bites my hands when I spoon him the soup.
When he finally sails we’ll throw out the soup.
It will be spring and I’ll sweep up the bottlecaps,
I’ll let my son strike the matches, we’ll watch the bed
burn. We’ll toss it by fistfuls, into the yard with my father’s
ashes. We’ll grow a grandfather forest, I’ll say to my child,
where he’ll spin all of your nightmares in an opal cocoon.
And when he looks back on this year, of soup and my father,
he’ll jiggle a pocketful of bottlecaps and tease his own child
to get into bed. Nights will pass quicker now: a drink, a cocoon.
by Jake D Sauls
Editor’s Note: As if the usual sestina repetition isn’t enough, this brilliant poem adds more within the lines, weaving an emotional journey all the more poignant for its transience.