These hands held mine each Sunday night and clipped my nails,
while I wriggled and watched the clippings fall
like sawdust into the crease of the newspaper.
As broad as the spades they pushed through the dirt,
they hammered and sawed,
patched pipes, fixed rooves,
built houses, a hospital, a school.
And a cubby for my sister and me,
with two rooms, shelves, a seat,
and windows of glass held by putty still soft.
And when I finished last in a race,
these hands slid around my shoulders
and stroked my back
as I cried.
They could be angry, too, these hands,
raised in the air, one finger pointing.
The words irrelevant;
the finger louder than the voice.
These hands held their mother’s
the night before she died.
‘Ah, these hands have done kind deeds,’ he said,
and clipped her nails one last time.
A few years’ later,
they held a face twisted in grief
by the death of a daughter.
They held mine down an aisle
and passed me to my husband,
and I left them
empty of daughters.
I hold these hands that no longer hammer or saw,
or even grasp a spoon.
The muscles wasted,
the tendons like bridges over the hollows,
withered by the disease that has taken the brain
before the body.
The sun has used them as a canvas,
and time has treated them like a page,
and life has written its story in their creases.
I cling to the story they tell.
‘They did kind deeds, these hands,’ I whisper,
and clip their nails one last time,
before I let them go.