Issue #2: My Father’s Hands, Irene Velarde

My Father’s Hands

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My father’s hands can’t play the piano.
Too strong, too scarred to stretch for full octave,
his fingers begin in hard work, fall short of
sunset over Manhattan, but my father’s hands can
build locks on a bedroom door,
can pocket the key. My father’s hands write
prescriptions, they know the sloping patterns of pills
whose names sound like bodies letting go,
like the mad rush of blood from the head to the heart.
My father’s hands count ten tiny toes. His hands hold still,
are home to the final shaky gasps of the friend
who didn’t make it. My father’s hands build fires
in dark houses, shield roses from December.
My father’s hands reach for basketball.
For steering wheel. For belt. They reach
for daughters. They pull dandelions
out before child hands find them,
before child breath seeds dreams that child
can’t reach. My father’s hands drive needle
into flank of dying dog, the same hands warm
a stethoscope. But my father’s hands can’t play the piano.
Can’t pull prayers from polished keys of night and bone,
can’t make midnight sun from forest fire
the way his voice can.
My father’s voice is the scent of green mangoes,
the pound of windshield wipers through snow and
morning fog folding around the Golden Gate like a lover. It
sounds like a metallic laugh of keys made to unlock head and heart,
like a chorus of letting go, of belt on child dreams,
of I made it this far. It is an echo of every lie I’ve told
instead of naming life miracle, and naming miracle love. My father’s voice
reaches. Even now, I can feel it wrapping around
the humming strings in my chest, like smoke rising
from the cigarettes he swore he never touched.

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