A poem begins with a lump in your throat ~~ Robert Frost


My Mother’s Hands

When did this happen?

My hands have become my mother’s hands.

I see her when I pass storefront windows,

pause to look at size zero mannequins

with flawless hands wearing clothes

I can neither fit in nor likely afford.

Reflections in the plate glass are surely not me –

that woman’s shoulders are slightly curved,

her thumbs tangled with arthritis,

her palms a map of lines and intersections,

blue veins and tendons slip sideways

as her fingers move over the computer keyboard.

My mother’s hands flew across the keys

of her black manual Underwood typewriter

as she wrote poetry and political protest.

I’d stand beside her left shoulder

mesmerized by the speed of her fingers,

keys jumping out and hitting the ribbon –

magically leaving letters on the paper.

She’d let me pull the carriage back

after the bell dinged at the end of a line.

I see my mother’s hands guiding mine

as I learned to bridle a horse;

once in the saddle she wove the reins

through my fingers and thumbs.

My mother played Schumann’s

Scenes from Childhood every night,

taught me Chopsticks and Hannon Exercises,

my small hands with chewed nails

beside her neatly clipped and filed ones;

I see her hands adjusting the angle of her hats –

straw ones, felt ones, wide brim, cloche,

soft cotton ones at the beach,

a few feathers and bits of sparkle when attending

the Metropolitan Opera in Atlanta each spring.

I spent a summer in France sewing hats

on a treadle Singer sewing machine

for the Fetes et Jeux du Berry,

learned to synchronize my hands and feet

fashioning elegant ladies bonnets,

red cardinal hats, military caps.

When my children were young

I made them elaborate jester costumes,

hats with tentacles and bells.

My mother sewed on lost buttons.

I see my mother’s hands after she was divorced,

took off her gold wedding band

with a sheaf of wheat engraved into it.

She filled her fingers with new rings –

amethyst, coral, topaz, turquoise.

After my husband died I wore both

of our wedding rings, side-by-side

for more than a year – I gave my husband’s ring

to my older daughter at her college graduation,

gave my handmade gold ring to my other daughter,

a talisman to make her safe.

People stared at my naked left hand, or so it felt.

My children bought me a thin gold ring

with tiny diamonds between horizontal bars;

I wear it every day

on the middle finger of my left hand.

I see my mother’s hands cradling

my first two children as newborns,

their tiny fingers grasping hers.

I see her hands, stoke-like disabled

after her heart stopped during surgery,

unable to hold my third child.

I trace my hand in a family journal,

trace the hand of my first grandchild

inside of mine and date it.

I will trace the hands of all my grandchildren

and I will teach them Chopsticks

on my mother’s Steinway piano –

but first they must wash their hands

with Ivory soap and warm water

as she always made me do

before touching the black and white keys.


© Red Clay, Eve Hoffman

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