In the old ways, when a priest’s new-minted,
the bishop presses blessed oil with a thumb
into those neophyte palms, prays they will be
faithful to service, to lift up the world
toward heaven and healing, prayer and clemency.
I feel that imprint still. My hands remember.
The nubbly abacus of vertebrae, thin
under the black slick of fur, my two old cats
long-buried under the ferns in that past Eden.
The burnished heel of the spade-handle, well-oiled
by my own juices, and my parents’ hands,
and the millstone-grit of the soil of all the places
we’ve lived and loved and husbanded the ground.
The rush and thrust of air through which I was falling
between the field and the Norseman’s open door,
the symmetry of out-arched flight, the equal fold
as if to hug, the rough tug on the ripcord.
That warm plateau rolling from breast-bone to shoulder —
the cwm under clavicle my fingertips wandered
tenderly in those mornings wet with promise
in the lake-licked cabin tangled in laurel and cedar.
Or lifting the silver cups, the loaves and plates
over the shrouded candle-gilded tables,
for so many glad, needy companies
made stronger by mutual feeding and conversation.
The cooling bridges of tarsals under my fingers,
surest signal of life’s last low tide
in the hospital seas of limp linen, the chaplain’s adieu,
both our gazes gone distant on that last wind.
Of all the things in a life we turn our hands to,
like any laborer with an honest will,
our skin has been instructed: this, remember,
this, hold and keep silence; this, release and tell.