These Hands

These thin old hands—
veined, spotted, scarred,
knuckles enlarged, tendons
sliding under the creased skin. Continue reading

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,
pressing, soothing…
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.

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31 Responses to These Hands

  1. victoria reggio says:

    Beautiful, Mike. As I’ve aged, I realize I have my mother’s hands. The shape of the fingers, nail beds are hers, however my aren’t as rough. I haven’t scrubbed as many floors on my knees, walked as many miles in cold weather without gloves (she bought them for us), lifted heavy pots and irons. Mine are veiny but in comparison they are the pampered hands that only occasionally changed diapers and cooked mostly for two.

    • Mike Feder says:

      Thanks, Victoria,

      Comparing hands… they are so perfectly representative of a life.
      My parents never go beyond their middle fifties– I remember their hands though–mine are more like my mother’s.

  2. Lynn Suits says:

    Tears Mike. The last touch.

  3. Lynn says:

    Mike, a real heart wrenching poem, so reflective of who you are.
    Yes, hands are the tools of our body that can do so much.
    I loved all of it.
    Lynn R.

  4. hands notwithstanding
    it is the mind
    the spirit
    the soul
    that reaches out
    as you are doing now
    and have done so well
    for so long
    and it does make a difference, mike

  5. Jane Stroll says:

    Beautiful in its reality…I have those hands now…they always still wear nail polish. Cheer them and me up…

  6. This is a beautiful poem, Mike. It reveals much about your life. And it got me thinking about my own hands and what they’ve done; so useful in helping us accomplish all of our tasks and goals. I loved the “first touch” and “last touch” references. Submit it to a magazine, why don’t you? Can’t hurt to try The New Yorker or maybe the AARP magazine. Get those hands of your busy on a submission!

  7. Daniel Sorkin says:

    Beautiful poem, Mike. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  8. Mike …What a thoughtful trip .. A true pleasure .. Even my crying out loud at the end.
    Thank you once more for your straight from the heart poetry. Your gift of letting the thoughts flow effortlessly out of the pen …………
    Thanks Tom

  9. Mary-Louise Burt says:

    Oh how lovely to bring the circle together…
    you don’t sound vegan however :)

  10. Robert Waite says:

    A very moving poem, Mike. How curious it arrives in a week when I am wondering if I am experiencing the early stage of arthritis in my fingers and wrists.

  11. larry says:

    sounds like you had a great life- stay strong- keep winning

  12. Sondra Roldan says:

    A real tribute to our hands that do so much.
    As usual you captured it beautifully.
    It is quite worthy of publication.
    Thanks, Mike for another gift.

  13. Maria says:

    At the last will have to let go of my self-sufficiency, though it’s just an illusion. Beautiful poem Mike.

  14. Bob says:

    Hi Mike,

    Stopped by to see how you were. I listened to the 2009 show “coming home”.

    A colorful (and I’m sure factual) portrayal of your father.

    I’m never going to Louisiana. Be well.

  15. Mitch says:

    You don’t know me, we have never met or spoke but my hand reaches out to thank you for the many years of on-air (WBAI) and written generosity. I am not a fan of poetry, since l usually have a hard time understanding it but your words are understandable and always strike the right chord. Hand shake, pat on back, hug, finger point at you. Thank you again. Now go get this thing published!

  16. Frank says:

    Have listened to you for many years. I think you’re a very great bard. Found you stuck in traffic for hours on Friday nights driving back to Manhattan from a job in Stamford. Especially loved your tale of New Orleans with your father, the story of rummaging through books of the dead, and your probation officer experience of your own Eli the Fanatic story.

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