My Father's Hands

They used to prowl the house
like great brown bears;
could pull corduroy over
the side of a chair,
line the upholstery tacks up,
and with one lock and swing
bring the hammer home
and leave no slack.

Once, my friend Eddie,
afraid to go home, hid under the expressway
among the rusted girders.
Those hands stood between
Eddie and his father clamoring
to crush him into a faceless doll.

Later, when beer and whiskey
flowed like angry red rivers
behind his eyes,
the hands wrapped around
the arm of a chair,
tore it away, then threatened
to tear us all apart.

It was then he thought
of cutting the hands off.

Now, his voice has dried, his eyes
are thin blue circles of paper
and have started to sink.
The hands will be the last to go
but even now they sometimes hang,
like two late November leaves.

And when I hold his hands in mine,
feel our blood pulse through them,
I know there is no need
to cut them off,
his or mine,
instead, they have begun to dance
although sometimes quite slowly,
like great brown bears.

Rob Soley was a member of Sojourners community, a father, and a poet when this poem appeared.

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