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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, March 14, 2018.
About this Poem 

“The way a magnet attracts and holds disparate objects, a poem brings into its force field strands of thought and images that have been milling about. In thinking about the arthritis in my hands, I can’t help but think about my mother, who I inherited it from, as well as think about mortality. The connections that occur during writing are always unexpected and often revelatory. Here, I was surprised by the underlying intimacy between us that the poem uncovers.”

—Carol Moldaw


"Save your hands,” my mother says,
seeing me untwist a jar's tight cap—

just the way she used to tell me
not to let boys fool around, or feel

my breasts: "keep them fresh
for marriage,” as if they were a pair

of actual fruit. I scoffed
to think they could bruise, scuff,

soften, rot, wither. I look down now
at my knuckly thumbs, my index finger

permanently askew in the same classic
crook as hers, called a swan's neck,

as if snapped, it's that pronounced.
Even as I type, wondering how long

I'll be able to—each joint in my left hand
needing to be hoisted, prodded, into place,

one knuckle like a clock's dial clicking
as it's turned to open, bend or unbend.

I balk at the idea that we can overuse
ourselves, must parcel out and pace

our energies so as not to run out of any
necessary component while still alive—

the definition of "necessary” necessarily
suffering change over time. 

The only certainty is uncertainty, I thought
I knew, so ignored whatever she said

about boys and sex: her version of
a story never mine. It made me laugh,

the way she made up traditions, that we
didn't kiss boys until a certain age, we

didn't fool around. What we? What part of me
was she? No part I could put my finger on.

How odd, then, one day, to find her
half-napping in her room, talking first

to herself and then to me, about a boy
she used to know, her friend's brother,

who she kissed, she said, just because 
he wanted her to. "Now why would I do that,”

she mused, distraught anew and freshly
stung by the self-betrayal. So much 

I still want to do with my hands—
type, play, cook, caress, swipe, re-trace.

Copyright © 2018 by Carol Moldaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Carol Moldaw. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 14, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Carol Moldaw

Carol Moldaw

Carol Moldaw is the author of So Late, So Soon: New and Collected Poems  (Etruscan Press, 2010) and The Lightning Field (Oberlin College Press, 2003), among others. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

by this poet

a patch of virga/a verse paragraph
slant marks/slashing the sky/silvered in a shaft
of sunlight/pellucid virgules marking time
and pitch in a run of silent recitativo
no skittering drops/no rivulets of rhyme
shearing off the windshield/dripping from eaves
from leaves/self-contained/this sheet of rain