These thin old hands—
veined, spotted, scarred,
knuckles enlarged, tendons
sliding under the creased skin.
I can see the white bones beneath,
can imagine all the bones
in my body—topped by a grinning skull.
I watch these old hands—
holding a book, turning pages,
using a knife and fork,
slipping into a sleeve—into a glove.
I raise my right hand,
palm and fingers facing outward—
sometimes to say hello,
sometimes moving them side to side:
“No thanks. Not right now”.
These same hands,
once very small,
new to the world,
gripped much larger hands,
with absolute trust,
with absolute love.
Growing, they pulled on socks,
tied sneakers, put belts through loops,
zipped up pants, buttoned shirts…
They flipped baseball cards,
shot marbles, held bats,
threw balls, flew kites,
picked up sticks, threw stones,
loaded rolls of caps into cap guns,
held fire-crackers, lit the fuses.
They’ve set mouse traps,
drained hot water from the boiler,
turned radiators on and off,
put up screens,
taken out the garbage…
At night, they locked
the windows and doors.
They’ve pushed lawn mowers,
pulled rakes, lifted snow shovels,
clipped hedges, pulled weeds, planted seeds,
moved their fingertips across
the smooth petals of June roses.
These hands have put mustard on hot dogs,
ketchup on burgers and fries,
folded slices of pizza,
poured out and raised to my lips
glasses of juice, milk, soda.
They have sharpened knives, swung axes,
stretched ropes, pounded in tent pegs,
unrolled sleeping bags,
baited hooks, reeled in fish,
built fires, fried steaks, scoured pans,
gathered fallen pine needles
from the forest floor.
They have turned steering wheels,
switched on radios and heaters,
cleaned dashboards, vacuumed seats,
washed windshields, filled gas tanks,
lovingly rubbed wax into fenders and hoods.
These hands have bought subway tokens,
pushed turnstiles, dropped coins
in vending machines,
clutched straps and poles
during long, swaying rides…
They have lifted bottles and cartons
out of refrigerated cases,
taken cans and boxes off shelves,
picked fruit and vegetables out of bins,
handed bills to cashiers, pocketed the change…
They have fried eggs, broiled steaks,
cut up vegetables, mashed potatoes…
They’ve carried bags with buttered rolls,
bagels with cream cheese, ham and Swiss heroes,
containers of coffee, bottles of beer.
These hands opened and closed doors,
hammered in nails, turned screws,
turned can openers, twisted off bottle tops,
washed and dried dishes,
pushed vacuum cleaners,
hung up pants and shirts,
put away socks and underwear.
They have slathered on suntan oil,
rubbed on ointment, uncapped bottles of pills,
put on and taken off bandages, wrapped
Ace bandages around wrists and ankles,
removed splinters, washed away blood.
These hands, in awe, or
in a consuming fever,
and, sometimes, with love,
have held other hands,
caressed faces, shoulders, arms, legs,
backs, breasts, stomachs, vaginas.
And these hands have held smaller hands,
extended in absolute trust, with absolute love.
They’ve changed diapers, held bottles to lips
directed small spoonfuls of food into mouths.
They pulled socks onto feet,
tied shoes, buttoned up coats,
put hats on heads, gloves on hands.
They have picked out birthday
and Christmas presents,
wrapped gifts, plugged in Christmas lights,
bought graduation, birthday
and Valentine’s day cards,
addressed and put stamps on envelopes,
dropped them in the mailbox.
They’ve turned the pages
of thousands of books,
held pencils and pens,
written a million words,
opened mail, filed papers,
dialed phones, pushed buttons,
pressed down keys, tapped screens.
These hands have done many hard
and wonderful things in their time…
Decades of deliberate movement,
twisting, turning, stirring,
pounding, pushing, poking,
They hold a universe
of remembered sensations.
Somewhere along the line
they lost some strength.
Brown spots appeared,
cancers grew, were removed…
Joints began to ache, then swell,
nails became lined, ridged…
Now, sometimes, these hands shake.
Things grasped are dropped,
one palm is enlarged from gripping
the curved head of a cane.
I can see the time coming
when the last thing these hands will do
is hold, other, stronger hands,
with absolute trust,
with absolute love.