Dedicated with much love to my Poppa, Joseph A. Karkut (1926-2008)
As I held those hands, sitting in the hospital room,
Those hands, like leather,
The skin, paper-thin and pulled taut against the bone,
Worn and old,
Old and yellow like parchment,
Dark veins scratching along the surface like ink on parchment,
I hummed a tune from my childhood,
Making up the rest as I saw fit.
Your lips curled up into a gentle smile,
Wrinkles creasing upwards,
You seemed at peace even though I knew that you had been in pain for a long time now,
And I cursed God for not being fair,
How it wasn't fair that someone with such a big heart should have to suffer so,
And I was filled with regret (And still am),
Regret for not being there more often,
For not calling more,
And I gently squeezed those hands that in quiet desperation squeezed back,
Gripping onto mine with a strength that I didn't know still existed,
But it didn't surprise me at all.
All gnarled and spent,
Callused with years of labor and love,
Filled with such diligence and generosity,
Those hands, once strong that built at least three houses,
And worked on countless more,
Those hands that built the rocking horse still sitting in my room 'til this day.
Those hands that fought in two wars,
Those hands that enlisted in the Navy at Sixteen,
But wrote down Eighteen,
Those hands that wrapped bodies into blankets,
Loading them into lifeboats as the ship sank,
A victim of a Kamikaze,
Given up to the mercy of the sea,
But those hands survived,
Those hands that kept a journal filled with courage, patriotism and hope,
Through those long, war-torn years.
Those hands that drew pictures and stories of horses and cowboys,
You didn't say much to me,
But when you did, it was straight to the point.
It meant something.
You were the Polish pirate of the road,
A rebel in your own right,
I can't walk anywhere in my house without seeing a single mark left by those hands.
Now I sit on the stone wall in my backyard and see your initials,
Carved there into the cement by those hands,
I trace the letters with my fingers,
And I stare down at my own hands,
Knowing that a part of you must be in them somewhere,
All I see are my hands,
Crippled and small,
Not strong and sure,
Like those hands.