Your hands have always looked too big to hold those meek potatoes.
Fingernails peeling and callouses dirt crusted, you hand me a bag of
freshly plucked reds and yellows, caked in mud that I’ll wash off later in
my Chicago kitchen sink. I still have never seen you happier than when you
aren’t driving your truck and can tend to vegetables.

Your hands have been gripped around more Bud Lights than all the plastic
six-pack yokes in the ocean, and in cuffs on occasion. They’ve yanked a
decaying tooth, no doubt. Long ago carried candles as an altar boy.
Shoveled snow gloveless in the dark morning hours, just as the cows begin
to stir in the field beyond the barn. Just as distant suns unwillingly
fade, yielding to light.

Your knuckles have wiped the sweat from your face as you soar down soybean
lanes in your new tractor, paid for by the life insurance money you were
given when a brain tumor took your wife. Your hands accentuate the grunts
that bubble up instead of words.

I saw your hands raised in the air during “YMCA” at my brother’s wedding,
the only time I saw you during the night without a drink. You didn’t look
like a farmer then, just someone’s uncle, soon to be cut off from the bar.

But your hands are your dead giveaway. Those creases and cracks, gasping
for water like dry riverbeds.

Sleeping on your couch during a Minnesota snow one Christmas, I remember
waking up before dawn and you were outside, cigarette lighting a narrow
pathway to your mouth. With one hand, you flicked away the building ash,
used-up memories. As I joined you on the porch, your finger pointed to the
sky, and a snowflake finally cleared one spot of grime on your hand. We
took our last glimpse of dark that day, the half-lit stars echoing thoughts
from some forgotten farm.

I wonder how often you drive across the country, transporting unknown
factory crops, and long to have your hands in the ground.   v