Arthritis

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.

More by Carol Moldaw

The Lightning Field, 6

6.
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
evaporates/is throttled/bottlenecked
in the sky's throat/never nears/never
grazes/never wets/the tantalized ground
virginal downpour/suspended mid-fall
coitus interruptus/a phone call/a second
thought/a punctured tire/a pummeled breast
no/no/no/no/no
the milk/won't come/the seed/won't plant/the womb
nulliparous/swells anyhow/the rain
falls/and does not fall/stalled/the drops
make no discernible sound/a sob/a soughing
at the wheel/to our right/never overhead
not in reach/always down the road
an etching/scraped/scraped out/scarring the sky
a series of caesuras/a fractured field
a field of splintered bones/of lines broken
into spits smaller than feet/smaller than
a fetus/embryonic/the arrested rain

Related Poems

My Skeleton

My skeleton,
you who once ached
with your own growing larger

are now,
each year
imperceptibly smaller,
lighter,
absorbed by your own
concentration.

When I danced,
you danced.
When you broke,
I.

And so it was lying down,
walking,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.

Someday you,
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.

Angular wristbone's arthritis,
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis—
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.

What did I know of your days,
your nights,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?

You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.