Hands

by Patrick Dubuque

When I was a boy
I had a book that taught how to read palms.
I held mine up to the diagram
and studied the creases in my own skin,
embraced the lengths of my love and life lines
with the fervency of a phrenologist,
wishing my hands were more deeply lined.
All children wish they were older, in some way.

My hands are large, now.
I’m reminded of them
when I encase my son’s unwilling partner
to cross the street
or try to find the tiny frets of his ukulele
as he knocks over blocks with his plastic dinosaurs,
or when I sit at the piano
and my fingers find too many keys.

I am no Wing Biddlebaum;
my hands do not symbolize me.
I am not good with them.
They hold tools but do not become part of the tools;
they grip pencils and paintbrushes
clumsily, with all five fingers.

They are not good hands,
not the graceful, nimble instruments
I imagined in childhood.
They’re rough and half-callused,
betraying a lack of truly honest work.
the skin is dry and cracking
and tiny freckles of an old age I never imagined
are surfacing on the backs.
The hairs on my right index finger are burnt off,
victims of a semiannual cigarette held just too long.
I can no longer cross my fingers.
Someday they will begin to hurt,
and never stop hurting.

There are lines on my hands now
that weren’t in the book. I wonder
what parts of me they represent.

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