Second Place Winner: The Painting

The oils depict a scene from my father’s youth in Pennsylvania:
he is with his older brother in a field behind the family home
where together they scythe tall grass that’s massed to the horizon
and thickest near the fence and tire-rutted country lane.

The scythes are like freakish growths rooted on their hips,
and so with sharpened violence
the Mennonite boys are caught forever in cutting poses.

Did they make a game of it, a race against the setting sky
before they were caught like this,
wearing black hats and the strict clothing of the religious—
did they make a game as dutiful sons at their chores,
dark in their beauty and restless at their work?

When my mother painted the scene
gleaned, she said, from his idle descriptions,
her paintbrush went across the canvas in the same
motion as a scythe.
And in the secret nights
when he thought I slept and instead I spied,
here he sat in the living room and stared at this framed world
where boys conspired to go beyond
what the good light allowed.

He spent long hours staring
and I think had there been no barrier to stop him
he would have climbed through the canvas
directly back to his youth to warn himself of what was to come.

When my mother revealed the painting
he frowned and said the house
had been white, not brown.
And that the fence was pure fiction.
Nor had the horizon ever been so red.
Nor had the grass ever been so tall.
Steven Harbold is a writer and editor living in South Jersey. He is a graduate of Rowan University.

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