Hands

Of a thousand hands
I’d know my father’s,
long fingers shaped like oars,
the index scar,
the flat, grooved nails,
hands that fixed the doll’s arm,
mended Whisker’s ear, checked homework.
Those hands grated Romano over Sunday pasta,
curled around glasses of wine
he toasted with at dinner,
or opened to offer the sweetest mulberries,
the ripest figs from his trees.

Once he kept a parsley caterpillar
so I could watch it emerge from its cocoon.
The jar was too small, though;
the wings dried with a crease.
It walked the long ramp of my father’s hand,
off-balance at takeoff.
It fanned and fanned,
but the crease would not unfold,
the wings could not lift.
My father set it in the grass,
and we watched it walk
the short runway of its life,
a tiny lopsided glider without wind.
My father’s hands, like long anchors,
dangled at his sides.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Bearing Witness.

Maryfrances Wagner’s books include Salvatore’s Daughter, Light Subtracts Itself, Red Silk (winner of the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence), Dioramas and Pouf. Poems have appeared in New Letters, The Midwest Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Voices in Italian Americana, Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books), Literature Across Cultures (Pearson/Longman), Bearing Witness, The Dream Book: An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation), et al. She co-edits the I-70 Review.

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4 Responses to Hands

  1. atenni says:

    No wonder I was wowed by this poem. I didn’t see Wagner’s name until I’d finished. What a warm, touching poem with a bittersweet wrap up. “The short runway of its life” will stay with me. Alarie

  2. maryfranceswagner says:

    Thank you, Alarie.

  3. This poem elicited a soft sort of horror. I can remember far too many times that I’ve come to the end of an experience I thought would bring joy but, instead, ended in a crease that would not unfold—an unsettling mix of potency and powerlessness. I will come back to this several times over the coming weeks because it is excellently crafted and accessible. Keep up the good work, Mary. All the best to you.

  4. Tina Hacker says:

    The imagery and unique details just blow my poetry socks off!

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