I think of the children who will never know, intuitively, that a flower is a plant’s way of making love, or what silence sounds like, or that trees breathe out what we breathe in.
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I remember shaking hands:
damp sweaty hands and dry scratchy hands,
bone-crushing handshakes and dead-fish handshakes,
two-handed handshakes, my hand sandwiched
between a pair of big beefy palms.
I remember hairy hands and freckled hands,
young smooth hands and old wrinkled hands,
red-polished fingernails and bitten-jagged fingernails,
stained hands of hairdressers who had spent all day dyeing,
dirty hands of gardeners who dug down deep into the
Thousands of years ago, a man stuck out his right hand
to show a stranger he had no weapon.
The stranger took his hand and shook it
to make sure he had nothing up his sleeve.
And that is how it began.
I remember sharing a bucket
of greasy popcorn with a boy
at the movies
(though I no longer remember
the boy or the movie),
the thrill of our hands
accidentally on purpose
brushing each other in the dark.
I remember my best girlfriend
and me facing each other to play
a hand-clapping game, shrieking
“Miss Mary . . . Mack! Mack! Mack!”
and the loud satisfying smack!
as our four palms slapped.
I remember high fives
and how we’d laugh when we missed
and then do a do-over.
I remember the elegant turn
of shiny brass doorknobs
cool to the touch.
I remember my mother’s hands
tied to the railings of her hospital bed
and how I untied them
when the nurse wasn’t looking
and held them in my lap.
I remember holding my father’s hand,
how the big college ring he wore
rubbed against my birthstone ring
and irritated my fourth finger
but I never pulled away.
I remember the joy of offering
my index finger to a new baby
who wrapped it in her fist
as we gazed at each other in wonder.
I remember tapping a stranger
on the shoulder and saying,
“Your tag is showing.
Do you mind if I tuck it in?”
She didn’t mind. I tucked it in.
I remember salad bars and hot bars.
I remember saying, “Want a bite?”
and offering a forkful
of food from my plate.
I remember asking, “Can I have a sip?”
and placing my lips
on the edge of your cold frosty glass.
I remember passing around the kiddush cup,
each of us taking a small sip of wine.
I remember passing around the challah,
each of us ripping off a big yeasty hunk.
I remember picking up a serving spoon
someone had just put down
without giving it a second thought.
I remember sitting with a mourner
at a funeral, not saying a word,
simply taking her hand.
This poem previously appeared in The New Verse News.