My Father’s Hands

My father’s hands

are gnarled and time worn

Atrophy has eaten away at the muscles,

leaving his hands weak and small.

They remind me of a monkey’s hands –

brown and leathery.

These hands that have tended to so many machines,

fixed so many moving parts,

these same hands have stroked the hair on my sons’ heads

and lovingly cradled my daughter’s face.

With these hands he has planted generations of gardens,

patted down the earth around all of the tender shoots.

He has cast lines into many waters

and unhooked his catch again and again,

alone under the moon on warm summer nights.

These hands held the back of my first two-wheeler,

blue with silver fenders and tassels streaming from the handlebars,

before finally letting me go to find my way on my own,

and they have wiped the blood and picked the gravel

from my skinned knees,

patched my wounds, only to let me go again.

They patiently whittled the sticks to frame a homemade kite

that I had to have but could never get to take flight

and taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood

and make a seam true.

I have watched these hands make fine knots in a net

with the same careful tenderness

as when they held an injured dog as it lay dying.

And I watched these same hands pull a drowning woman

from a deadly current

with a strength I hadn’t known they possessed.

A world away in another lifetime,

my father’s hands wielded a rifle and a machete

in the jungles of a homeland that he left behind

but never forgot.

Now, I watch his hands move back and forth

in morphine dreams,

sewing imaginary threads through invisible garments.

I look on helplessly as they pleat the stiff white sheets

and knit them to and fro, over and over.

In the few moments when they are still,

I hold my father’s hands close to my chest,

against my beating heart –

they are so diminished within my own.

These hands

that have labored and loved

harvested and hewn

These hands are the man he was

and the life he lived.

And now that his days are waning,

I want nothing more

than to be taken back to that one innocent moment

when everything was safe,

and nothing could harm me

because I was cloaked in my father’s inviolable protection,

taken back to that instant

when he held the fender of my bike

and guided me on the path.

touched me on the shoulder once

before setting me free to find my way.

 

May 31, 2001

 

Pepsi, Twizzlers and Muscle Relaxers

 Today is a day for celebration. Corey finished his STCW class, which apparently is a big deal when you are a merchant marine. At least, I know that it’s a big deal when you are trying to get your Mate of Towing license for bigger boats, and now he’s completed another hurdle on his way to allow him to drive bigger tugboats. The fact that he’s done all of this training on his own I find phenomenal. A lot of the people who do this training are sent by their companies. Corey and I have paid for all of these courses on our own (with some help from some family along the way), but it’s been his personal goals and drive that have gotten him to this point, and I am incredibly proud of him.

These last few months, though, have been tough and easy. Tough financially, but easy in the sense that Corey has been my bulwark. He has taken care of me in every way, right down to the cooking and laundry. Once he gets back on a boat, that means that I have to find my way back to the kitchen, and that, my friends, is going to be tough. You see, I have developed some strange ideas as to what a balanced diet consists of, and I know that it is not what a growing teenage boy should subsist on. For me, I could be perfectly content living on a diet of pepsi, twizzlers, and cereal, as long as I have my muscle relaxers to ease the back spasms. Throw in some ice cream occasionally, and I’m a happy camper. Now, none of the above requires cooking, or even use of the microwave.

Please don’t misunderstand. I have a gorgeous double oven, stainless steel gas stove, Calphalon pots, Henkel knives and various and sundry other wonderful kitchen staples. And, I am well-acquainted with how to use them. I used to cook all of the time, and quite well, I might add. In fact, I cooked all of the food for Corey’s sister’s wedding as my wedding present to her. I doubt that I could replicate such a feat again! I rarely used cook books as I am a pinch chef, i.e., a pinch of this seasoning until the aroma suggests that the flavor is just right. I make wonderful marinades for beef and chicken. I can stir fry with the best of them. I have been perfecting a spaghetti sauce recipe since I was 14, my cousins the unfortunate test subjects of my first batches.

The truth, however, is that I just don’t like to cook any more. I grew tired of it, and Corey began to love the kitchen, so I gladly gave it over to him. Now, though, I know that he, too, has grown weary of cooking. So once he goes back to his boat, I will have to find my way around the knives and pans again. I don’t mind it so much, but it does tend to hurt my back after just a half an hour or so. And if we ever do get around to putting in the tile floor that we want in the kitchen, I’m not sure how well I’ll hold up. So for now, I’ll have to limit myself to dishes that require minimal prep time, and maybe I’ll be able to find my groove again. After all, I can’t make my sons eat microwave pizzas every night of the week.

The Boys
The Boys

Oh well. We must move forward. Corey gets his certification. I give up Twizzlers for dinner and become reacquainted with my kitchen. Maybe I can teach each of my sons to cook a dish (besides macaroni and cheese and tuna). And maybe porcine, four-legged animals will sprout wings and lift off from my roof . . . . . . . . . .

Yep. I’ll hold my breath on that one.