‘Establish the work of our hands …’

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations …
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past …
We spend our years as a tale that is told …
So, establish the work of our hands—
O establish the work of our hands.

Excerpts of Psalm 90 adapted from the King James Version

HANDS

By BENJAMIN PRATT

It always comes on a slant
a glint of light
a tilt of my head
a twist, turn or torque of my hand—
but in a flash it is my father’s hand,
the way he tilted it or let it droop.
His hand.

A sweet warmth connects us across decades
bathed by this tender memory:
His hand gripping,
twisting as he torqued a baseball,
teaching me how to throw a curve,
or thread a fast ball in just above the knees.

His hands taught me arithmetic—
add, subtract, multiply and divide—
with a stub of pencil.
And patience.

I don’t recall his voice saying, “I love you.”
His hands said it.
He often asked me to stop by the garage,
especially after a big game the night before.
He’d crawl out from under a car,
wipe his greasy hands, light a cigarette.

“Come over here,” he’d say,
as he put his hand on my shoulder and introduce me as his son.
Maybe the only time he’d touch me.
Then he’d describe my playing ball the night before.
I’d get real quiet and red as he’d go on,
hand on my shoulder, feeling pride, swelling pride
in my playing the game he loved.

His hands were always stained—
two yellow fingers from too many cigs.
His nails were always black—too
much grease to wash away.

His hands were always kind, never cruel,
even when my mother insisted I had been so bad
I needed a good beating with the belt.
He’d call me into another room, slip out his belt,
pull the ends together, hold in both hands, push it into a loop
and snap it together to make a deafening crack.
I’d scream!
He’d yell, beat the bed, crack the belt, scare the hell out of me!
I’d cry and he’d tell me to respect my mother.
He’d leave me alone. Return to her.
I don’t think he ever hit me once.
Lucky me.

Then, his hands trembled when he aged.
Mine now tremble sometimes, too.

Once we went together to visit mother’s grave.
He suddenly said,
“All the grave stones on this side of the cemetery are flat,
on the other side, they are large monuments.
Your Mom and I are on the side where everyone is
equal.”

It happens seldom,
always on the slant.
We reconnect.
His hand
becomes my hand.

Three Generations of Hands photo from Susan Stitt

Three Generations of Hands. (a photo from Susan Stitt, used with permission)

 

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Comments: (4)
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Comments

  1. Beautiful poem, Benjamin. What wonderful memories and what a beautiful portrait you
    paint of your father. With your own hands.

  2. Bob Shepherd says:

    Enjoyed the caregiving piece when wife Brenda ran onto it, and learning more about what Ben is up to after our being in his first church in Dale City, VA from 1966-69 and letting him influence the direction of my life. Barely had kept up from afar in the years since but a UM Pastor (actually the late Dean Smith’s son-in-law), serving near Asheville told me about 5 years ago how his counseling had meant so much to his ministry. Keep it up, Ben!

    • Benjamin Pratt says:

      Bob and Brenda,
      What a delightful treat from our past to read your words. I certainly remember you and Brenda and the life we shared in the formation of Good Shepherd. It really has been a long time and I am so grateful that you left this comment. I hope this finds both of you doing well and continuing with a sense of purpose in your lives. With fond memories, Benjamin

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