My Mother’s Hands
A mouse was the first death I touched. Soft apostrophe cupped
from grass and carried to my mother’s scream. She scrubbed
my palms until they pulsed, one heartbeat each. Now I watch her
cup the room where love and death sit nose to nose: her father
shrunk to wires and lights, his hands in hers. She urges oil
to each dry crease. His knuckles gnarled as root ginger. Hers
bright with grease. I think of the fevers I weathered young,
tossed on a hot sea of sheets. Always there: my mother’s murmur,
kind hands. Cool on a cheek. The yellowed pads I liked
that smelt of smoke. The raw flakes under her wedding ring.
I never wanted teething-beads to gum, the kiss of plasters
on a cut. I wanted hands and gentling, the way you’d stroke
a horse who’d spook. The way how here she tucks him in,
fits the clear straw to the drooped lip. I sit with her. With him.
We watch him dwindle for a week. And when his light goes out,
I hold her as she shakes and weeps. She cannot still. Her hands
mill the air, two birds disturbed. She has no parents now. How
old she looks. How thin. I take her hands in mine. I take her in.
‘My Mother’s Hands’ by Cheryl Pearson won 1st Prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March/April 2020) judged by Mandy Pannett.