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My Father, My Hands

Today’s poem is “My Father, My Hands” by Richard Blanco. Richard is the author of three books poems, most recently Looking for the Gulf Motel and a memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. Richard read his poem “One Today” at President Obama’s second inauguration.

He writes, “My father was a quiet man, and largely emotionally absent. I suspect partly because of his exile… he had to abandon his whole way of live and his dreams when he left Cuba. I’m not sure he every fully recovered from that. … he died when I was 22 years old, so I never really had the chance to develop a mature, loving adult relationship with him. In light of all this, I’ve tried to get to know my father, so to speak, though my poetry, rendering small glimpses of him, re-imagining him, connecting through what little I recall of him and our relationship. In this poem, that connection is through our hands.

My Father, My Hands
by Richard Blanco

My father gave me these hands, fingers
inch-wide and muscular like his, the same
folds of skin like squinted eyes looking
back at me whenever I wash my hands
in the kitchen sink and remember him
washing garden dirt off his, or helping
my mother dry the dishes every night.

These are his fingernails—square, flat—
ten small mirrors I look into and see him
signing my report card, or mixing batter
for our pancakes on Sunday mornings.
His same whorls of hair near my wrists,
magnetic lines that pull me back to him
tying my shoelaces, pointing at words
as I learned to read, and years later:
greasy hands teaching me to change
the oil in my car, immaculate hands
showing me how to tie my necktie.

These are his knuckles—rising, falling
like hills between my veins—his veins,
his pulse at my wrist under the watch
he left for me ticking since his death,
alive when I hold another man’s hand
and remember mine around his thumb
through the carnival at Tamiami Park,
how he lifted me up on his shoulders,
his hands wrapped around my ankles
keeping me steady above the world, still.

“My Father, My Hands” copyright © 2012 by Richard Blanco.
Reprinted from the book Looking for The Gulf Motel, by Richard Blanco
(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012)
by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.