Poem: Arthritis by 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.
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