Kathy Fagan

To My Hands On Their Birthday

People will find any reason to shame you
because they are ashamed of themselves.
Therefore, I have resolved on this day, 
the anniversary of my birth—a dawn like any other 
in a Queens maternity hospital, 
night shift giving over to day, one nurse 
remarking on the vast circumference of my infant chest
while Mother wept over my crooked pinkies—
I have resolved to celebrate these hands, 
which decoration could never enhance
nor lotion un-line nor lavishly expensive manicure 
make passably pretty. Especially now, 
with their ridges, divots and crepe, 
so like the potatoes they held, the dirt and the money, 
the keys, ink, seeds, bottles, so much 
menstrual blood, cum, pussy, tears. Useful, 
they were, a comfort as they stroked, with care and without, 
striking out or shaping, making, getting, 
getting cut, burned, scraped, held. They were 
held, my hands. Hands that had always 
the look of hands holding out their ticket, 
neither next nor the one after next, but Soon, the hands say, 
Soon. When I ask how he’s feeling, the old man 
in Memory Care says, It’s like having one left hand 
and a second left hand. 
Into both of them, then, he rests his face.

Smart Watch

You can still do it
my watch often tells me.
But do what?
Squeeze in another 7,344 steps
or bear a child.
Cure my father’s Alzheimer’s
or see Paris once more.
I can commit
to some of it, but not all.
I can sit
with the old cat warm on my lap
while she’s still here.
I can hold my dad’s hand
while we look at clouds
he calls soul-delivered pyramids.
He smells like pee, 
but the autumn light is admirable
for a dying planet,
and the car wash next door
plays pop music so loudly
he can almost hear—
or senses, somehow, its cheer. 
My mother’s watch 
was a tiny moon 
circling the orbit of her wrist.
She stopped before it did.
My father never wore
a watch, but he knows
it won’t be long now
for either of us,
and that it will be 
much too long.


From the Author: These poems are, like the poems in my forthcoming book, Bad Hobby, in part about aging, its hard lessons and joys. But the new poems focus more sharply on the body and its passages through life and death.

Kathy Fagan’s sixth poetry collection, Bad Hobby, will be published this September by Milkweed Editions. Her fifth, Sycamore(Milkweed, 2017), was a finalist for the 2018 Kingsley Tufts Award. Fagan’s work has appeared in venues such as The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, Kenyon ReviewThe Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day and Best American Poetry. She co-founded the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, where she teaches poetry and co-edits the Wheeler Poetry Prize Book Series for The Journal and OSU Press.

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