Poem: My Father’s Hands, in memoriam

My Father’s Hands, in memoriam

I saw my father’s hands today
and they were mine.
I froze. I was driving at the time
well, stopped at a light,
a minute or two late
for lunch with a friend downtown
holding change I’d grabbed
for a meter, a mask
I’d grabbed because, well,
you know, I know. Maybe
one day people won’t.

I saw them peripherally. It was
the angle, the light, yes
they were my father’s hands.
My brothers called my father Daddy
and I guess I did too
but I don’t remember.
His hands and skin were darker
much darker than my own
his hands were larger
He was so tall, much taller
than I am now, so I knew his hands
more intimately than his face,
I suppose.

I was five when he died.
He was forty-two, a dozen years
younger than I am now
but his hands may have been
about the same age as mine.
He wasn’t aging well. Daddy
was an alcoholic. Long afterward
my mother told me on the day
before the night he died
He’d gone off in a rage because
I refused to go on a walk with him.
Then he froze to death, drunk
on the street. Later still, my oldest brother
disputed her account, well,
disputed my part in it
anyway.

I was moved seeing my father’s hands
forty-nine years later. I couldn’t stop
looking at them. I couldn’t believe
I recognized them, remembered them.
I longed for his hands, to hold the memory of him

as the light turned green

maybe so I could ask his forgiveness.

My son knew my hands at five much
as he knows them at twenty-one.
He knows them better than I know them.
My hands are darker than his,
a little larger, too, and I’m a little taller
than he has become. He’s never
refused to go on a walk with me.
I don’t drink, well, hardly ever.
I didn’t die at forty-two.
He calls me Poppa, today and every day.
We’ve never stopped holding hands.
I imagine him taking my hand
one day
one last time, some day
when he lays me down.

 

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