Hands

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,

and tomatoes.

 

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

good-bye.

 

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

never leave.

 




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