Return

They’re burning fields on the delta –
violent end of harvest.
Smoke billows above charred stubble,
chokes and blinds me as I drive.

Mom turns ninety on Sunday.
The whole town’s invited
at two for cake and to say
how good she looks.

In truth, she’s not good.
Fragile with diabetes, eyes failing,
fingers gnarled to claws;
no quilts for new babies.

Hard-willed as the life she’s led,
she stays alone with a cat and a walker.
Folks look in on her from time to time, say
they’ll let me know if something happens.

I’ve burned the fields too.
College-trained for work not at the whim
of subsidies and drought, I expect
no feast for this prodigal.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Photo source
For Poets United

42 thoughts on “Return

  1. The feast for the prodigal is, I think, simply the act of returning home as often as s/he can…until, of course, home is no more.

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    1. Your observation is interesting because in this case, a farmhouse nearby burned, and now gardens, sheds, the burned home, everything is like it never was. It’s just more milo or corn or cotton or whatever crop brings the best price. There’s an eeriness that abides in its absence.

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  2. I identified with much in this incredibly touching poem. The “no quilts for new babies” moved me to tears. In our family, it was “no more cookies in the cookie jar”. When my daughter moved to Oregon, it was my first knowledge of burning the fields. You’ve introduced that beautifully into your poem as well. Bravo, my friend, well written!

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  3. I can see her with her cat and walker, indomitable. I like the way you move from actual burned fields to metaphorical ones. I hope she has a happy 90th birthday! Sounds like tea and cake with the town will make for a happy day.

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  4. The tone reminded me of your other poem – Requital – the clear-eyed unsentimental (and unforgiving/unforgiven) view of death and its prelude – that powerful – line ‘I expect no feast for this prodigal’ and the ashes in the fields. Marvellous stuff.

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  5. Bringing me back to Oregon again. The stark reality in loss. Sometimes those fields ‘get away’ and then the houses and good wheat are taken. The coming back again doesn’t always work, does it…
    Thank you for writing this.

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  6. “I expect
    no feast for this prodigal.”
    The depth of this simple statement statement made me quite emotional.
    How oft we leave what is, then mourn its passing.
    A wise and wonderful read.
    Anna :o]

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  7. Thank you, Anna. I think Thomas Wolfe summed it up in saying, “You can’t go home again.” Certainly those who “go away” from this small insular farming community are never seen in the same light by those who stay behind.

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  8. I love the deeply conversational style of your poem. It reminds me of the times I’ve sat a day on the front porch down South and listened to the stories — family histories to shaggy dogs. It has that easy cadence; as it should.

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  9. This is brilliant writing. I find many of your poems have a story-telling aspect mingled with impactful images and insights of the here-and-now – creating wonderfully constructed, beautifully rendered pieces … such as this one. A pleasure to read!

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