A father, whether he was good or bad,
leaves an emptiness when his life ends.
I try to reconstruct a portion of my
father’s life in a memory of hands.
I watch my fifteen-year-old son
palm a basketball. He dribbles,
runs, then leaps into the air,
striving for the perfect dunk.
His hands fly over novels
he swore he would never read.
They clean the kitchen without
being asked. He is his father’s child,
yet something in his hands look like
a larger version of my own;
like my father’s.
As I study my father’s hands,
they appear to grow out of his tall,
thin frame like the sturdy branches of
an old oak tree. His left hand bends and
waves at the wrist, as if waving away
some pain he does not want me to notice.
The pad, just under his thumb, is puffed
and swollen from years of pounding nails,
or holding a ceiling joist in place. It could
still hold a fistful of nails if it wanted to,
or smooth a mound of string beans, okra,
My oldest son, Jonathan, is seventeen now.
He gently touches, then lifts Grandpa’s hands
as they lay across his chest.
“Rub them, Mom. Right here.
Feel how smooth they are,” he whispers.
Jonathan steps away from the casket,
allowing me full access to my father’s hands.
Even in death, a field of warmth radiates
from his fingertips. I hold them, remembering
their usefulness. How they used to braid my hair
before school. Or how they layered slices of
processed cheddar cheese across his famous dish
of Spanish rice with wieners.
“Hey Dad,” I say with a smile.
“Who’s gonna bait my fishhook?”
I lean into the Mahogany casket,
Dad always loved the beauty of wood,
and kiss his forehead. I take one last
look at the hands that will never lift
me into the linen closet during a game
of hide-and-seek anymore.
But they always held me tight whenever
he greeted me, and just before saying
Tonight, after the funeral, I am watching
Jonathan’s hands as he sits at the piano
playing an old 40’s love song:
I’ll Be Seeing You.
He’s playing with my hands.
His father’s hands. Grandpa’s hands.
An old lover’s hands. Long, lean, capable.
I’ll never know
where some things come from,
or why some things