It always seemed old to me.

Wrinkled, brown, and strong--

huge compared with my own small fingers.



We played our hands were dinosaurs--

            mine, a brontosaurus, with two fingers for legs on each side

                        and a long pointer in the middle, searching for you.

            Yours, a strange creature with only a thumb for leg on one side,

                        and three legs on the other.

            I always pointed out the unreality of your dinosaur,

                        but you said it was better that way.


You rarely said you loved me, and always artificially

            as though you knew you must say so,

            as though it were a rather silly joke, love.

But your dinosaur loved mine,  caressed it,

            and was possessed of a great gentleness.

                       *  *  *


My hand grew big and worked in the world

And yours showed the wrinkles of age as well as use,

            and the veins stood out on it.

We didn't play dinosaurs any more, or talk much. 

Teens are urgent to know the world,

            racing like dogs through life to find their territory.


The house was filled with friends connecting,

            falling in love, protesting the government,

            debating the universe,

            mistaking wit for meaning....and you retreated.


Were you lonely in your room alone,

Writing those many drafts of never published books?

Or did you find your intimacy within as I would now?


My world crashed once or twice in this time.

A summer boss, a petty tyrant, rebuked me.

So small a thing now--but then so huge.

You found me sobbing in my room.

I never came to you for reassurance that things were going to be all right.

But when things stopped being right, you came.


You stroked my head with your hand again and again, not saying much at first.

But then, as if the hand gave you the words, you spoke to me--

Spoke of your own failures in work,

Spoke of times you had been criticized or rejected,

Or had simply failed to do the job well.

You didn't say you loved me, but your hand did, and I was comforted.

                       *   *   *


My hand grew wrinkled as yours grew older still.

The wedding ring won't come off mine now;

Yours was frail and would shake sometimes as you

Reached for your medicine.


My sister met me at the airport when I came to see you dying.

Mother said she couldn't wake you, but I went up alone,

            sure that you would wake for me.

I called you and sang to you—

            sang the songs you sang to me at bedtime long ago.

I scratched your back and acted out the battle of Salamis.

I walked dinosaurs up your arm.

I begged you to open your eyes.

I kissed your old withered hand, a little blue at the edges.

So small and frail now,

My great strong father,

Just a little old man breathing with all his strength.

No energy to move a hand all that long night.


I sat on the floor in the morning.

Wedged in the space by the side of the bed

And called again to wake you,

And held your hand, and kissed it, and spoke again,


And then you woke.


You couldn't speak, for breathing was all that was left for you to do.

But you could smile, and squeeze my hand,

And be there with me one more time.

Not with the little awkward smile that went with awkward words,

But the real smile, joyous, delighted--that went with the hand.


In two hours you were dead.

Your shoulder was still warm, wrapped in its blanket,

But the hand was blue now, and the life gone out of your old eyes,

I kissed your purple hand--then I knew you were not there.

We sat with you on the bed and patted you,

And spoke of things that were and would be, and slowly

You became less yourself and more a stiff cold thing.


Later I showed strangers up to your room to carry you away

And burn your hand and your eyes and your vanished smile.

And when they had finished,

I walked through the snow, holding a box,

And carried my father home.



                                                                                    © Jean M. Campbell 1996