The prairie sun hung low,
Slipping toward the hill,
Just touching the top of the lone cottonwood
Leaning away from the country road.
He stood in the doorway,
Removing the tattered chore coat,
Taking off his muddy boots,
Saw his mother,
Standing, looking out the window,
Half expectant in her pose,
Half turning toward him,
Where he stood.
She'd looked out that window
More than 25,000 times, he figured,
Watching the ends of days,
Year after year,
Storms coming, or no,
Soft breezes blowing,
Opened, she'd listen to the prairie sounds:
Coyotes and owls at night,
Meadowlarks and roosters in morning,
Hawks shrieking and cicadas by day,
And people sounds:
Children and grandchildren laughing, crying,
Neighbors closing the latch and coming near,
Her husband, clearing his throat...
The memories returned at the window,
While she was standing there.
Through the galvanized screen the world filtered in:
Earth-rich scent of coming rain,
Strong tobacco smells of men lounging after lunch,
New-stacked hay beside the barn,
Springing grass and budding trees....
She'd waited at that window, too,
For her husband to return,
Or one of the ten boys and girls
She'd birthed and raised in this old house.
At 97, she was nearly blind,
Could only hear a little,
Spoke seldom now,
Covered her swollen legs with a woolen blanket,
Even in the heat of summer.
Her idea of exercise were precarious journeys:
Her old easy chair,
And the western window.
He, the youngest son, a bachelor,
Comical in his words,
Steady in his ways,
Owned an easy-going laugh that set his friends at ease,
Careful in his manners, never meaning to impose,
Ever ready to lend a neighbor a hand,
Became the one to stay with "Mother,"
After his father died the lingering death
Of a man who'd lived to groan that he'd
Survived a bull's trampling.
(Well, "survived" was just a word, meaning
Prolonged misery preceding untimely death.)
"Mother, what you lookin' at?" he asked,
Fresh in from chores,
Knowing vinegar pie and hamburger hotdish
Were waiting in the oven
Because he'd placed them there.
"It must be time for breakfast!"
She turned from the window,
One frail finger pointing at the sun,
Struggling now in the branches of the tree,
"The sun is coming up!"
He stood behind her.
"Where does the sun come up every day, Mother?"
He asked softly.
She looked at him, confused.
"Yer lookin' out the west," he spoke again,
"The east is over there."
He pointed to the other side of the house,
And she, uncertain, looked again
At the dying sun, now setting,
Easing carefully into the western pool of night.
A few high clouds glowed red, tinging now in grays.
"Sun's going down, Mother, and nearly time for bed."
He put the plates on the table,
Walked her to her place,
Helped her sit,
Scooped their plates and cut slices
Of the home-made pie.
Red sky at night meant he might get the last
Few truckloads off the home place tomorrow
Before wind or storm flattened everything to the ground.
Tonight it was supper and settling his mother to bed,
Washing some dishes, and putting things away,
Before some reading and a solitary evening...
Before the coming of another day.