Poetry Advent Calendar Day 18

Carrying on with the theme of family, we have a poem by Susan McMaster from her 2018 collection Haunt. “Implements” ties together memories of old with the present, it shows how lives change as we grow and age.

 

Implements

 

Anytime I dip my hands into hot water,
I feel them curve around my mother’s hands,
at the cottage, in our home, in the house
by the sea where she visited each spring.
Hot water and soap are a salve for tendons
and knuckles thickening with the arthritis
that’s crept from her to me these last few years.
Her hands were always holding a frying pan
or vacuum or basket full of dirty clothes,
or gripping a hammer to fix a shelf
or wrench to tighten a pipe.

Working hands, marked with stains,
nails cut short, skin rough –
except when she’d finished
washing up for family dinners,
or scratch meals grabbed
as she ran between tasks.

Then her hands were soft,
white, warm.
We’d settle into their embrace,
one under each arm,
as she told us her stories
of pink-and-silver spotted dinosaurs,
clever, funny kids
with our very same names
who’d somehow figured out
how to disappear
and play tricks on their parents.

Later, when we grew up,
gathered for birthdays, holiday feasts,
as soon as it was time to run hot water
into the sink, squeeze in soap,
she’d send us away: “You go, I’ll clean up.”
She said she like the warmth
on knuckles beginning to knot
with arthritis, liked the time
to think about this and that.
Though she never shared the stories
she told to herself.

This year, I helped my mother
to a chair after dinner.
This year, I passed my rings
to my daughters to wear
on their slender, supple fingers.
This year, I was the one who said,
“Go. I like to do it.”
A cleansing and warming
that brings back youthful mess,
looks forward to the moment
when my own grown children,
gathered at my hearth,
finish their cup of tea,
then nudge me aside.

In turn, to immerse themselves
in sustenance, continuance,
as they handle the implements
well worn love.

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