Sunday, May 10, 2015



Harriet Alda Hillebrand circa 1950
I will remember her hands most of all

When I was young I thought she took pointers from Madge
In the Palmolive commercial
Because my mother's hands were soft and smooth
Her nails always shaped so nicely
By her own hands, working meticulously with an emory board
I used to go through her vanity looking at the different tools
and polishes that made her hands so pretty

She could play the piano, but didn't.
At least never in front of us.
I used to imagine her sitting at the Yamaha
Her thin nimble fingers gliding over the keys
Before we came in from school when they would
halt, and continue their business of mothering

Cool hands on hot foreheads.
Tender hands on disappointed brows.
Dexterous hands hemming trousers or sewing costumes.

I will remember her hands most of all.

When she had heart surgery, that first time,
A new valve to keep her blood flowing properly
through those slender hands
I visited her up in her bedroom
And rubbed lotion on her hands
massaging between the fingers to release the tension
and fear
I filed her nails back to their perfect rounded edges
I massaged her feet, too.
Thinking then, I loved her feet, as well.
circa 1976

When I was little she used pumice bars and special lotions
to smooth the heels which were calloused from guiding our
backyard antics on the concrete patio around the pool

She let me touch the hardened edges then feel the difference
after the lotions and scrubs
I was fascinated

That afternoon when my father called
and I walked the streets of Chicago in a growing haze
I asked "But she's still alive, right? I can still hold her hand."
It was important to me to touch that link again
To my selfhood

I held her hand that night.
And rubbed her feet which were miraculously smooth and soft
So distant from those crazy calloused days running around the patio
Making sure that children didn't stub too many toes,
Or fall in the pool.

I rubbed her smooth warm feet under the crisp hospital sheet
Family all around
Circa 1986
Taking turns holding her hand
Which still gripped, acknowledging our presence
Acknowledging the human link of touch

I was holding her hand that night
When her silvery spirit rose above us
in peace
Incredulous at first
I knew then, when the warmth also
rose up with that shimmery soul
I could no longer hold that hand

This morning after the distant sound of a train
awoke me at dawn
I lay in that half-dream state
pulling my arms out from the covers
laying them on my side, palms up
in supplication
relaxed, but imperceptibly reaching
for the hands I cannot touch
but know I will always feel.