The Return of the Homecoming King
The Kingdom of God is like
the story that starts with
‘give me my inheritance.’
Which, as everyone knows,
is the only polite way to request
that your father drop down and die.
The desert winds are starting to blow,
hot enough to melt the snow,
when your brother returns,
at the very tail end of the barley harvest.
Father sees him first –
and you reach out to clutch at nothing,
too late to stop him from
hitching up his robes into his belt,
with bare legs
his bones made strong with relief.
There is salt in the air
when they collide.
The men are starting to murmur among themselves,
your father has shamed himself and they know it.
But you snarl at them until they shut up
(heaven help you, you love that fool still).
Father calls you over.
Your brother smiles cautiously at you,
tears slipping down his grimy cheeks
as he twists father’s ring around his bony finger.
You force yourself to look at your brother.
He’s too skinny, having lost
most of his baby fat.
You think of father,
bent over a yellowed map.
shaking as he traces
a wrinkled finger down the path of the famine
that came on the heels of
your brother’s great escape.
Your brother’s eyes are harder and older,
his grin no longer boyish.
He does not look like the child who left
after telling your father to
drop down and die.
If you have to look at your brother any longer
you might actually bloody that still-pretty
face of his with your un-pretty fist.
So you pull yourself away from your
father’s hand on your shoulder,
your mouth twisted with the sourness
of your smile,
as you remind your father
that there is the rest of
the barley to store up still.
You watch the servants slaughter
the fattened calf watch them dig
out the best of your brother’s
abandoned clothes, hastily
cobble together sandals to
replace the ones that are falling
to pieces with each
weary step your brother takes.
Father comes to you later
during the celebration, to
where you’ve exiled yourself
from your own house.
And you try to tell him that
your fury has nothing to do
with the sandals,
or the fine clothes,
or father’s ring.
It is about the fact that
you will never be better or worse
than your brother in your father’s eyes.
It is futile to wish that father
had only love enough for the faithful,
because even you know that
your father’s love is
vaster than sense can keep up with.
Father says some nonsense about
your brother’s return
being like a little resurrection.
You bite down against the
snarl of your words and
roll your eyes in the dark.
You go in eventually
to shut your father up.
Your brother looks as uncomfortable as you feel,
squirming on the seat of honour,
and your heart does a funny little shake
when you catch sight of him
drowning in the fabrics of his fine clothes.
As he picks at the rich
food on his plate,
the look on his face
makes you realize that there is
misery in being forgiven
That night, as you tend to the horses
your brother comes to you
and tries to prostrate
at your feet,
but you grab his bird-thin wrist
and you stare at each other
for a long time.
you’d chanced upon a litter
of dogs too weak with hunger
Father had snapped their necks
despite your pleads for mercy.
The memory of it resurfaces
and you see those pups in
your brother’s sunken eyes, his
bowed spine, his
hollowed cheeks, and you
realize that all those years ago
your father had
performed a kindness.
Your brother smells like fresh earth and rain
when you pull him to you.
As he garbles apologies into your neck
you hush him with one careful hand
flat on his back
where you can feel the jut of his ribs
still prominent with starvation,
and you whisper:
as you blink very hard and try
to hate him.
The Kingdom of God is like
the story that ends with