Poetry » Brendan Sullivan »


She made hot chocolate that morning –
the kind that sticks to the mug
and burns –
and baked an apple cobbler,
deep dish warm with butter and fruit,
for the prodigal had returned.
She turned out the sheets
on his bed
and hung his jeans
out to dry –
the bright flag of denim
announcing his return
to everyone on the street.

Slowly the neighbors trickled in
to wonder and gape –
offerings of spiced ham
and ale, brown bread with raisins
and freshly knitted socks and mufflers
in soft merino shades –
all bundled as if in tribute.
They wanted to see
if he could still sing Amazing Grace
in his fine tenor voice
and drink the men under a table,
his fists the only answer
left lingering in the dark.

They hoped to see
the tall buildings
in his cheeks,
and the alley’s long shadows
bruising the skin
at his temples;
and maybe he had stories
birthed in wine
and women’s hips that would
steam the bite
off their jaws
and make their wives blush.

For a city left its mark,
as if proof was needed
that some men never change.
And those left behind
walked the blind side of life
hoping luck was a lover
and that strangers knew their place
and that far away
was never enough.


Strange how the swans did not return
to the lake that June,
almost as if they knew something
the rest of us did not –
some savage instinct or glorious flaw
christened and drowning in the water.

Their nests had been plucked clean, deflowered –
the eggs all gone,
the water choked thick and spiteful
with weeds.
The dock stood as always – knee deep in reeds
and apathy, the bald wood
showing its age and wobbling.

The tide brought its witness –
the wide, yellow maw of pollen
forbidding the surface to move.
You stood on the shore and poked
the sand with a stick as if expecting
it to to get up and walk away and surprised
when it did not make a sound.

I wondered what you were thinking
while you stared out over the water,
holding your breath like a bucket of stones.
Your lips never moved but I could hear
you talking –
blithe and unseen sounds nestling
in the crater of late afternoon.

And the kites kept their distance
all summer, never noticing the mercury
bursting from the thermometers or how
the wind kept changing its direction,
just biding their own time as the months
wore out their brief welcome.