The Prodigal Brother

Look at you, drunk and passed out
on the floor again. God damn you
for coming back!

He's dying, you know. You didn't see
the way he coughed and leaned on my arm
this morning when we went out to feed
the animals--you don't see anything
important, you're too busy impressing us
with your newfound filial devotion.

He said we'll have a feast in your honour,
we'll kill the fatted calf--the calf I nursed
with a piece of cloth dipped in milk, the calf
who was the future of my herd--
but I'm the good son, the stay-at-home son,
the obedient son, so I slit her throat
and spill her blood onto the sand.
Now all that's left of her is the grease
shining on your lips.

Rebecca's eyes are shining too. Not for me, though.
I'm the one who saved her from being stoned.
I gave her a name, a home, a family.
But I'm too boring, I guess. One look at you
and it's like I'm sixteen again, watching
as the two of you sneak off into the hills
every chance you get.

I'm sure they've pointed out how much our Sarah
looks like you. She's restless, too, like you were
at her age. It was not for your sake, brother,
that I ignored all those years of snide comments
about the strange ways family resemblances
snake through the generations.

He's going to try to bribe you with half the farm.
And you'll take it. Why not?
But what was I, then, for all those years?
Just an arm to lean on?

Look at you, so innocent in sleep. How easy
it would be, how just, to press a pillow
on your face. Or slide this narrow blade
into your heart. Just to end this endless
game you always win--though you never
seem to even have to try.

December 2001

This poem is based on the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son
I always found the older brother to be the more sympathetic character in this story.