Yu Shibuya's poems have appeared in many journals, including Black Warrior Review, MARGIE, and Dogwood. His first produced screenplay, Gunjo, starring Masami Nagasawa, was distributed by 20th Century Fox Japan in June 2009. Jitensha, an award-winning short film he wrote and co-produced, was an official selection at major film festivals, including the 66th Venice Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, and the Rhode Island International Film Festival. Shibuya holds an MFA from Purdue University.
I Sit in on a Special-Ed Lesson
On this flash card, hand-made and round
on the corners, is a tiger. No fangs.
Thick lines, its body's yellow spilling
and mixing with the marker's black.
A cartoonish face,
like the mind of the boy
with Down syndrome
who stares at the card.
The teacher has more, she
shuffles them, waits,
and, when some branch at the classroom window
taps and cracks
his concentration, she repeats
the question, Which word rhymes with this animal?
She slides the word-list an inch
closer, just so, to him.
Only three stripes on the tiger's round body.
The desk, wooden and patient as usual, sustains
more than the teacher's pivoting elbows,
the cards, more than the lesson itself,
a larger thing: the weight of the child's
next wrong guess.
The lesson continues—elephant,
peacock, monkey—until the table is a jungle
of flashcards. His eyes squint after
hunting through the list for sounds
he cannot hear.
Maybe it's a zoo he sees,
a very quiet one.
The teacher separates every animal name apart
into phonemes. One vocalization,
the next, the last,
until any animal becomes a string
of the mouth's various ovals.
It's okay, little boy,
I want to say, English is my second language too.
I can't rhyme either.
On and on he stares
the way he would at a real zoo, in front
of thick metal bars, ignoring families,
tours, and kids on a field trip.
And when he moves,
it'll be to reach his hands through
the cage, to touch and feed
the gazelles some
rice crackers, to pat their muzzles,
and to say
without saying, I know, I know
this isn't your home.