Barbara Presnell, My Son Comes Home

Barbara Presnell

He brings with him the ripe scent of summer,
unwashed, and a white bag of peaches he bought
at a roadside stand east of Raleigh

when he knew he’d be late and remembered
how much we love them, fresh-picked from trees
and so sweet their tender flesh trembles.

It has been six weeks since he left,
car packed, map unfolded across the passenger seat,
headed alone to a job across state, 18, on his own

for the first time. Now when he steps from the car
I am startled by the deep cast of his face,
the three-day beard that shades his cheeks.

We have grilled burgers to celebrate his return.
We gather at the table, passing awkwardness
among us like mayonnaise and tomatoes.

As he and his father talk baseball, war,
the market’s ups and downs, it is all I can do
not to leap from my seat and take him in my arms.

Instead I gather him up with my eyes—
his large hands, the dark hairs curling up from knuckles,
chest, neck, shoulders, chin. He sees me, pulls free,

pushes back from the table, says,
“How about dessert?” At the faucet he turns
three soft peaches in his palms, washing,

and with a sharp knife, begins to trim,
the blade slipped beneath skin,
loose peels falling to the sink.

Author’s Comment: “My Son Comes Home” describes my son’s return after his first summer on his own, working at a beach restaurant between college semesters, so aware, as were his parents, of the importance of this experience. Metaphor—the short and tender life of a peach, in this case—allows me, even still, to recall the incident with deep emotion and love without sinking into sentimentality. Most likely, my Southernness accounts for why the luscious summer peach often appears, complete with fuzz, bruise, and pit, in my writing.

Bio: Barbara Presnell’s poetry collection, Piece Work, won Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s First Book Prize, and was published by CSU in 2007. She’s received the Brockman and Oscar Arnold Young Awards, the Linda Flowers Prize, and two NC Arts Fellowships. Poems appear in The Southern Review, Cimarron Review, Malahat Review, Laurel Review, and many other journals and anthologies.

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