Thirteen Ways of Looking at Life Before the Virus
by Lesléa Newman
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 good earth.
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 I 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 pinky
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.
First published in New Verse News, March 31, 2020.
* Writing Prompt: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Life Before the Virus” was inspired by the classic Wallace Stevens poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Write about the same thing in thirteen different ways. You can choose an everyday object such as a fork or a stone, or an object that has deep meaning for you such as a treasured piece of inherited jewelry. Think of a person, place, or thing you want to spend time with and study deeply. Each stanza should contain a moment of discovery.
Lesléa Newman has created 75 books for readers of all ages including the double memoir-in-verse, “I Carry My Mother” and “I Wish My Father” and the novel-in-verse, “October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard.” Her literary awards include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Massachusetts Book Award,and two National Jewish Book Awards. From 2008 – 2010, she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA. Currently she teaches at Spalding University’s School of Creative and Professional Writing.