by Susan E. Wagner
I 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? II 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. III 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.