Cherish them while you can . . .
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,
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,
taught me the right way to pound a nail into wood
and how to 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.
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
Music by Mike and the Mechanics, “The Living Years”