THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT LIFE BEFORE THE VIRUS

[First appeared in New Verse News]

By Lesléa Newman, Writing for Children & Young Adults Faculty, Spalding’s School of Creative & Professional Writing

I.
I remember shaking hands:
damp, sweaty hands and dry, scratchy hands,
bone-crushing handshakes and dead-fish handshakes,
two-handed handshakes, my hand sandwiched
between a pair of big beefy palms.
I remember hairy hands and freckled hands,
young smooth hands and old wrinkled hands,
red polished fingernails and bitten jagged fingernails,
stained hands of hairdressers who had spent all day dying,
dirty hands of gardeners who dug down deep into the good earth.

II.
Thousands of years ago, a man stuck out his right hand
to show a stranger he had no weapon.
The stranger took his hand and shook it
to make sure he had nothing up his sleeve.
And that is how it began.

III.
I remember sharing a bucket
of greasy popcorn with a boy
at the movies
(though I no longer remember
the boy or the movie)
the thrill of our hands
accidentally on purpose
brushing each other in the dark.

IV.
I remember my best girlfriend
and I facing each other to shriek,
“Miss Mary . . . Mack! Mack! Mack!”
and the loud satisfying smack!
as our four palms slapped.

V.
I remember high fives
and how we’d laugh when we missed
and then do a do-over.

VI.
I remember the elegant turn
of shiny brass doorknobs
cool to the touch.

VII.
I remember my mother’s hands
tied to the railings of her hospital bed
and how I untied them
when the nurse wasn’t looking
and held them in my lap.

VIII.
I remember holding my father’s hand
how the big college ring he wore
rubbed against my birthstone ring
irritating my fourth finger
but I never pulled away.

IX.
I remember the joy of offering
my index finger to a new baby
who wrapped it in her fist
as we gazed at each other in wonder.

X.
I remember tapping a stranger
on the shoulder and saying,
“Your tag is showing.
Do you mind if I tuck it in?”
She didn’t mind. I tucked it in.

XI.
I remember salad bars and hot bars.
I remember saying, “Want a bite?”
and offering a forkful
of food from my plate.
I remember, asking, “Can I have a sip?”
and placing my lips
on the edge of your cold frosty glass.

XII.
I remember passing around the Kiddush cup,
each of us taking a small sip of wine.
I remember passing around the challah,
each of us ripping off a big yeasty hunk.
I remember picking up a serving spoon
someone had just put down
without giving it a second thought.

XIII.
I remember sitting with a mourner
at a funeral, not saying a word,
simply taking her hand.


Lesléa Newman is the author of 75 books for readers of all ages, including the poetry collections I Carry My Mother and October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. Her newest poetry collection I Wish My Father is forthcoming in  January 2021 from Headmistress Press.