This poem was published in my column, "Notes from the Southwest Corner" in The Lebanon Democrat, Monday, October 5. It was written to honor my father, who at 95 remains the smartest man i know. He turned 95 on September 28. He is still teaching me how to live.
When most folks meet him,
they notice steel blue eyes and agility;
his gaze, gait and movements
belie the ninety-five years;
those folks should look at his hands:
those hands could make Durer cry
with their history and the tales they tell.
His strength always was supple
beyond what was suggested from his slight build.
His hands are the delivery point of that strength.
His hands are not slight:
His hands are firm and thick and solid –
a handshake of destruction if he so desired, but
he has used them to repair the cars and our hearts;
His hands are marked by years of labor with
tire irons, jacks, wrenches, sledges, micrometers on
carburetors, axles, brake drums, distributors
(long before mechanics hooked up computers,
deciphering the monitor to replace “units”
for more money in an hour than he made in a month
when he started in ’35 before computers and units).
His hands pitched tents,
made the bulldozers run
in the steaming, screaming sweat of
Bouganville, New Guinea, the Philippines.
His hands have nicks and scratches
turned into scars with
the passage of time:
a map of history, the human kind.
Veins and arteries stand out
on the back of his hands,
pumping life itself into his hands
the tales of grease and oil and grime,
cleaned by gasoline and goop and lava soap
are etched in his hands;
they are hands of labor,
hands of hard times,
hands of hope,
hands of kindness, caring, and love:
oh love, love, love, crazy love.
His hands speak of him with pride.
His hands belong
to the smartest man I know
who has lived life to the maximum,
but in balance, in control, in understanding,
gaining respect and love
far beyond those who claim smartness
for the money they earned
while he and his hands own smartness
like a well-kept plot of land
because he always has understood
what was really important
in the long run:
smarter than any man I know
with hands that tell the story
September 28, 2009