Chairs and Prodigals
by Elizabeth Neely Clauser


The spoon and fork make parentheses
around your placemat. Above them
your zealous palate will taste nothing.

"No one else is coming," I tell the wait-
ress. Her hands collapse the parentheses,
like an accordion that plays one last chord.

Dad says seconds later, "There's a chance
he'll be joining us," and she opens up
the accordion; now its bellows swell

in the realm of possibility. But why
does Dad hope? Your chair was empty
at Grandpa's funeral, then at Grandma's,

and later at my wedding. So should
Dad's sixty-fifth produce you even if
you said your customary "Maybe"?

You won't return as prodigal son,
but once you asked from behind me,
"May I help with your baggage ma'am?"

as I herded my luggage off the belt.
The surprise boom from your chef's stomach
was the porter receiving me home.


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