My Mother’s Hands

1. My Mother’s hands were always busy.
My memory spans the years,
Crowded with indelible impressions—
Her hands were beautiful and strong.
I watched them knead and shape
The high, rich loaves of bread,
The dough snapping,
The bubbles popping,
As she placed them in the pans
To rest and rise in neat perfection.
Sometimes she would pinch off
Little knobs of dough for me,
And I would practice her art
With childish fascination.
2. Her hands had special strengths
To wash and wring the clothes,
Rubbing and scrubbing them along the board,
Gathering them up in pleats and puckers,
Twisting them into coils like
Stretched candy,
Then shaking them loose
For further rinsing or hanging on the lines.
There was authority in her hands,
And power!
3. Tacks in her mouth,
Hammer in her hand,
She half-soled our shoes,
Having cut and shaped
The leather with the butcher knife.
She had the iron feet to fit
Our different sizes,
And held them on the staff
Between her knees
Like other women held the harp.
(Was hers any less an art, I wonder?)
4. Her hands cooled fevered flesh
And bathed sick bodies,
Combed out tangled curls,
Fluffed up pillows,
Smoothed sheets,
Arranged quilts and blanket,
In a symphony of peace.
And it was not uncommon for her
To deliver babies,
Bathe and clothe the dead,
Home the orphan,
Comfort the bereaved.
Her hands were ever busy
At the bier and bed,
And neighbors never suffered
If she knew their need.
5. I watch her hands today
The fingers busy
On querulous errands
Among the bed clothes.
She does not rest.
She lifts her hands.
Is she praying, pleading,
Summoning those we cannot see?
We catch her wandering hands,
Hold them, press them, kiss them,
Remembering back along the years,
And we feel the stinging of our tears.

[illustration] Painting by Annette S. Trunell