The Prodigal Father

Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part One. Have you ever wondered what happened after the Prodigal Son’s return to his father?

Twenty years or so after the Prodigal Son’s return, his father occupied a table outside a cafe on a small street near a city park. The old man lifted his half-filled wine glass, saluted the spring morning, touched the liquid to his lips, sipped the nectar, then smiled at his mouth’s delight as he waited for the younger of his two sons.

His thoughts elsewhere, he occasionally raked his fingers through his white beard, unknotting the long, fine strands. He lifted a pipe to his mouth and inhaled a slow puff of tobacco.

He remembered asking his son in that long ago time of the boy’s return, “Tell me. What was it like?”

“It was glorious. Until the money ran out. Stuck my thumb out and headed West, cause West was where the night life was. And I had one rip roaring time. There was down on my luck days and full house nights. Did the Vegas thing and lost everything, including the seat of my pants. Robbed a train or two. Me and my outlaw buddies. Spent some time out Siberia way. Cold so bad it froze the bones. Fell in love seven, eight, nine times. Prayed at the Ganges.”

Listening to the boy spill his stories out like he was tossing dice, he couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to just take off toward the horizon without a care in the world.

“So. What made you come back? The farm sounds like it’d be Boredom City compared to the life you were living?”

“Don’t know. Guess I got tired of mining for gold and coming up pyrite. When I tired of a life on the run, I got into my head to settle down. Thing is I didn’t have much job experience. Even for a swineherd job, I needed a resume. So I lied and made everything up. Then I got to feeling guilty. Lying just wasn’t in my blood. You’d taught me well where that was concerned.”

As his son talked, the father realized he’d missed so much. He’d taken over his father’s farm because his father couldn’t do the work anymore. If the farm had depended on happiness to prosper, it never would have prospered. But it had prospered as he sowed the seeds of his misery. That’s when he realized he had taken a hankering for the wondering life. It’s like they say. You don’t know you’re lonely till you glance at a happy couple.

That night he called his two sons into his library. Right there and then, he did a Lear. Handed his older son the deed to the farm with a check for enough money to manage. He gave his second son, the prodigal boy, another check. That left him with just enough cash to head for parts unknown.

He’d been places. He’d gone East when he could have travelled West. He’d wanted to find the place where the sky drew back a curtain and gave the opening act of the sun, a new day to play with. He’d never found that spot, though he tried. It was just as lost as the end of the rainbow.

Scanning the park nearby, he recognized his son, walking briskly toward him. The once-upon-a-time young man had put on some pounds but otherwise he’d prospered in the intervening years since the two had last seen each other.

The old man called the waiter over and ordered a second bottle of wine.

The younger man saw his father and hurried toward him. The two men embraced, then sat down. At the table, they took a long look at each other, and tears rolled down their faces.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He wouldn’t come.”

“Figures.”

“How are you, Pops?”

“Still ornery enough to kick your butt.”

“I bet you can.”

The old man poured out two glasses of wine. Then they sat silently gazing into the park. They had never been a talkative bunch, he and his sons. His long dead wife had done most of the talking, often carrying on both sides of the conversation.

The sun slipped out of the sky and slowly the evening settled into shadows. In the silence, the father reached across the table and squeezed his son’s hand.

“I love you, Son.”

“I love you too, Pops.”

It was close to midnight when the two stood up and embraced.

“You sure you won’t come home with me? For just one night. Liza would love that.”

“No, Son. It wouldn’t be right. Your brother would think I was playing favorites again.”

The Son nodded. He knew what his father meant.

“‘Sides I got to get on. There’s a whole wide world out there to explore.”

The two embraced one last time, kissing each other’s cheeks. Then it was goodbye.

The son walked away, glancing back at his father several times, each time a longing in his eyes, a longing for another time and place when the two had shared a meal with his brother, when the three had laughed heartily at bad jokes and good wine and a mother’s love as his mother served up a feast of a meal. That time was gone, only a memory that would fade into the dust of time.

The old man sighed, then finished the wine. He decided it was time to go West finally to the sun’s setting and catch a wave off to Avalon. He stood up, dropped his pipe into his pocket and strolled off to the park. He’d hitch a ride the next morning.

In the dark and under a tree nearby, his older son watched his father. He started to call out, but something stopped him. He just couldn’t do it. So he turned and headed back to the farm. He had cows to milk early the next morning.

Near 500 words: The Mother of All Living

–from the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence

One of the most moving statues, for me, is “The Penitent Magdalene” by the Italian artist Donatello. With it, we get the figure of Mary Magdalene after years of wandering in the desert. It’s a statue that I love.

After spending some time gazing at pictures of it, I began to think of Eve. The Genesis story doesn’t give us much after she and Adam left the Garden of Eden. All we know is that Eve had three children.

One, Cain, murdered his younger brother, Abel. After Cain was banished to only God-knows-where, Eve and Adam had a third son. His name was Seth.

It seems to me that something is missing from that story. What was it like to leave the comfort and security of the Garden of Eden and spend their years wandering in a world that was so large and people-less? I began to imagine those two wandering souls and their regret for losing Eden. How they must have felt being cut off from God. The depth of their homesickness. Especially Eve, who gets the brunt of the blame for their banishment.

As I thought about the story, I remembered Psalm 137. This particular Psalm was written while the Jews were exiled in Babylon. It begins, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” The Psalmist was speaking for anyone who has been forced from their homeland and cannot return.It’s the story of the African slaves. It’s the story of the Jewish, the Armenian and the Irish diaspora. It’s the story of the Syrian refugees and refugees everywhere.

So I wrote this poem.

“My heart is breaking,” 
Eve told the Earth. 
Then Eve scribbled the words
with the ink of her tears

into the dirt upon the Earth’s back. 
“My son murdered my son, 
and the murderer is a ghost 
haunting the valleys 
and the mountains.” 

Eve sat by a tree 
mourning her first born, 
mourning her second child, 
the blues in her eyes shedding  
seven hundred seventy-seven tears each day  
‘tween the sunrise and the moon. 
“Tree, my heart is bleeding,” 
she sang, her grief rising 
like smoke up to the ears of God. 

Eve went down  
to the church by the river Cry. 
She lit a votive candle 
and prayed the rosary 
one hundred and fifty times 
for the souls of her sons,

one whose life was taken away, 
one who took the life
and a third,
a new beginning. 

Hamlet: Horatio One More Time

For Hamlet’s plot till now, see Hamlet So Far.

Last we heard of Horatio, he was saying “Good night, Sweet Prince.” Then he slipped into the night before Fortinbras was all over Elsinore. Some say that Horatio went east and made himself a kingdom someplace in the Urals. After all, he had learned soldiering from Old Hamlet.

Personally I go with those who say that he went south. Since he was a kid, he dreamed of Venice. One thing is for sure. He earned his way in the world with his sword. Along that way maybe he worked for Othello, the Moor. For a bit of time, he was a Capulet, then it was on to Florence and the Medici fam.

For a while he had a run in with the Borgias. If Elsinore had taught him any one thing, poison was not his gig. So he was out of Valencia in a hurry. Along the way, he spent some jail time with Cervantes. At least, this is what I believe.

Since he had been Hamlet’s Nick Carroway, Horatio was in demand everywhere. Last we heard from Horatio was that he was doing TED talks.

He begins this way: “Guess you thought Shakespeare was going to do this talk today. Sorry to disappoint. He had some business back at Straitford. Something about bailing out his son-in-law. He sent me instead.

“So how did Shakespeare come up with Hamlet? Guess you’ve heard the tale that it was a response to his son, Hamnet’s, death. Hamnet died back in ’96. It was in all the papers….”

Next week at this same time and same station, Uncle Bardie will be singing a whole new song. So put it on your calendar and be ready to follow the Yellow Brick Road. You might even hear Miss Scarlett proclaim, “Tomorrow is another day.”