The Eldest Son
By Laura Lee Washburn

journeyed to seek his fortune.  His parents
wished him well, had even offered him home,
but he must go and so he did until a kingdom
with the weeping king and lost princess
where he served with no particular distinction
for a year, and then the ubiquitous and fateful
visit home where he found at once his parents
grieving, his brothers working the mares on the hill,
his sister safe in her bed, the fields full,
and his inheritance fully lost
for he came home
to find himself dead.  The year and the work
had taken him somehow.  To be sure,
they all recognized and welcomed him with feast,
split the pink pig on a spit, pulled crackling
over hot coals, heard his story about haystacks
as high as the glass hill wherein she hid,
but he was the dead son for whom his parents wept.

The princess is neither here nor there in this tale.
She may become a loaf or a banded duck.
She may quake at the knife or the gun
or live breathless for her hours at embroidery,
but she is neither here nor there in this tale
of the son who leaves and returns and finds himself dead,
in this tale of the hero who creeps out of heroics.

What shall he do with his death?
Shall he make himself a terrible bear
with claws like swords and sabered teeth?
Will he go into the wood and smite at trees?
Should the meadow mares hide their foals?
He will wear the cloak of a thousand days.
He will hide in the book of all words.  When
the time comes to greet him, will he go
like a clod to the dirt?  Have no fear and have fear
for he comes with two clips and despair.

Laura Lee Washburn is the Director of Creative Writing at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, an editorial board member of the Woodley Memorial Press, and the author of This Good Warm Place: 10th Anniversary Expanded Edition (March Street) and Watching the Contortionists (Palanquin Chapbook Prize). Her poetry has appeared in such journals as Carolina Quarterly, November 3rd Club, The Sun, The Journal, and Valparaiso Review. Born in Virginia Beach, Virginia, she has also lived and worked in Arizona and in Missouri. She is married to the writer Roland Sodowsky.