To a Wayward Son

by Ken Ashworth
The Waters
Second Place, April 2020
Judged by Terese Coe

They say that when you die, the soul
snakes up, slips itself free and for
three mandatory days, sits in a pub
so that all who have aught against ye
can take tea, lay claim, and move on.

I’m sitting under an elm in the park
alphabetiizing a list of all I’ve loved.
Beginning with Anna from third grade,
one leg shorter than the other.
I’d joke about the sound her built-up
clog made on the wooden floor,
and she’d give me a shy pirate smile.

It was a straight up exchange, even
at that age I had a need to be wanted.
Look I never meant to hurt you.
Come, let us reason together.
Make your peace while I yet stand.

The instances of archaic diction do not detract from this poem’s contemporary appeal and candidness or from the speaker’s effort to settle grievances before time is up. The speaker is presumably the boy’s parent, perhaps his father. “Wayward” in the title is open to interpretation and intimates a degree of advance flexibility. The subject matter is inherently weighty: the nonsectarian virtue of parent and child making their peace before death. It is a warm, loving poem. “Alphabetizing a list of all I’ve loved” is very strong, possibly indicating the parent’s failure or inability to set up any other criteria or order for cataloguing his/her loves—as if it were a necessity. Clearly such a catalogue would arouse reveries and memories, not an impractical pursuit for anyone in a time of plague, or anyone near death, or perhaps anyone at all. What it says to the son or daughter personally will remain a mystery. --Terese Coe