The Prodigal Son’s Sister

by Susan E. Wagner


He has returned to us,
This child of my parents
This brother I hardly know.
Father rushed to embrace him
And still now, shouts for joy.
Go, go, go, he orders everyone. 
Prepare a feast.

This brother I hardly know,
Does not see our mother,
In the doorway shadows.
He does not see her eyes tear
And her hands tremble.

Older brother watches, anger 
Upon his face.
Now, the returning brother
Finally sees our mother.
In silence, they embrace.

Who is he who ignores me
To rush again to Father?
Who is he who laughs easily
With Father, their hands clasped?
He will feast after bathing,
Dressed in new clothes.

Who is this man returned to us,
This brother I hardly know?


It doesn’t matter who he is,
He is a man, and so is offered 
New clothes, given oil for his 
hair, sweet herbs for his bath.

He eats before me and mother,
Drinks wine at Father’s side. 
He returned from the dead
This brother, this man, returned 
To his rightful place ahead of me.


I see Mother cry when
She thinks no one sees.
It is this brother who causes it
The way he does not see her
When she gives him food, the 

Way he greets Father, not her.
Laughs with brother and talks.
She praised God for his return.
She is a good mother. 
I see her cry and wonder about

This brother I hardly know.
Her calloused hands now brush
The soft fabric she chose long 
Ago for his robe, carefully stored 
These many years.

Her head of lustrous gray 
Bends over the pretty stitches
And a tear falls on the fabric --
Her stitches, her tears, her very 
Heart is in this robe.

This is my gift to this brother 
I hardly know – I will tell him
That he should count the drops 
of Mother’s tears, for one day he 
May have to answer for each one.

Susan E. Wagner‘s book, Unmuted: Voices on the Edge, is a hybrid collection on mental illness and families. She has taught professional and creative writing in mental health settings and adult community classes. She recently retired as an editor at the Pearl S. Buck Writing Center in Perkasie, PA.

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