Friday, June 4, 2010

"The Beech Nut" by Shane Seely

I did not imagine
such hands could be so delicate

as he cracked the beech nut open
and offered me the tiny jewel of meat inside.

His palm was a field
left fallow through the winter,

in which I might watch white-tailed deer
leap a fence or linger into dusk.

With a finger the girth and color
of a shovel handle, he nudged

the burred husk
and pried the soft nut free.

Those hands, which I had seen
wring a chicken's neck

as though they were returning the cap
to the jug of milk in the refrigerator.

Those hands, which I had seen
fix tractors, fell hemlocks,

lead cattle to their slaughter
by the horn.

The beech nut tasted
exactly as the forest smelled

that sun-ripe day
early in the winter, a little sweet,

with an overtone of something just beyond
my apprehension.

Years later he would wait
with my mother and the hospice nurse

for death to come. With his hands
he would smooth the care-home's gown,

the color of the sky
in which the clouds are stained with blue

by the indefatigable sun, or he would fold
his hands across his chest.

Other times he would raise those hands
before his eyes

and say to the shadows in the room,
What can a strong man do to leave this life?