I did not imaginesuch hands could be so delicate
as he cracked the beech nut openand offered me the tiny jewel of meat inside.
His palm was a fieldleft fallow through the winter,
in which I might watch white-tailed deerleap a fence or linger into dusk.
With a finger the girth and colorof a shovel handle, he nudged
the burred huskand pried the soft nut free.
Those hands, which I had seenwring a chicken's neck
as though they were returning the capto the jug of milk in the refrigerator.
Those hands, which I had seenfix tractors, fell hemlocks,
lead cattle to their slaughterby the horn.
The beech nut tastedexactly as the forest smelled
that sun-ripe dayearly in the winter, a little sweet,
with an overtone of something just beyondmy apprehension.
Years later he would waitwith my mother and the hospice nurse
for death to come. With his handshe would smooth the care-home's gown,
the color of the skyin which the clouds are stained with blue
by the indefatigable sun, or he would foldhis hands across his chest.
Other times he would raise those handsbefore his eyes
and say to the shadows in the room,What can a strong man do to leave this life?