The Elder


Carl Sennhenn

I am the first born, the older brother,
the child of rigid training--disciplined
by the rod; dutiful, made heavy
with responsibility, I am the dull one,
the careful one, willing to settle for praise
instead of love and never, no matter how devoted,
never our father's favorite.

Overlooked, taken for granted, I stay
home, work hard, am not greedy
for my share of patrimony. I look after our father
and oversee his business. Toil day after day
in his vineyards, sweat in the arid sun.
I put my shoulder to the plow, walk in the wake
of oxen smell, increase our father's holdings, and
in the evenings, at his feet, try to ease his grief.

And don't think now that the prodigal's back,
he won't get another piece of the pie.
He may have to wait for it this time
but he'll get it, our father's that doting
on him. He won't even have to ask,
although he's squandered his share
on drink and whores. He couldn't wait.
Had to have it all. And now
he's come back, his tail between his legs,
his body covered with sores. Broke and starving too.

He's had it hard, you say? No doubt. But he had
more than his share of good times,
and lolling in the shade, among the swine, in a strange land,
he had time to dream of the snoutsful
of good wine he'd drunk and of the blandishments
of women who smelled of oriental perfume
and who took his money and his innocence in ways I've never
known with the girls around home who smell of sheep and sweat.

Why shouldn't I envy him?
I've been used,
made a necessary foil in a spiritual tale
about the restoration of the lost
to our Heavenly Father's fold.
I can accept that.
I can even accept his return as cause enough for joy--
     for wrapping his sores in Persian silks,
     for giving him the golden ring,
     even for killing the fatted calf.
But what I cannot accept is this:
Not even Father remembered to call me
but left me in the fields to sweat in the heat of the sun.
     Unworthy of the celebration.
     Uninvited to the feast.


Author Bio

A longtime teacher, Carl Sennhenn is the Associate Dean of Humanities at Rose State College, Midwest City, OK, where he teaches English and Humanities. He has taught creative writing for senior adults and children, is the faculty editor of the RSC anthology Pegasus, has published two chapbooks of poetry (and is desultorily at work on a third).

Other poems by Carl Sennhenn
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot


"The Elder" Copyright © Carl Sennhenn. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.
This page last updated 4-3-01.

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