Winter Hands

on the fast-flowing mezzanine of
the underground El
she looks hard at her hands,
watches the tendons bend
and pop as she drums her fingers
in the air, the red of her knuckles like blushes
broken by tendrils of white
winter skin, the blood beneath, sluggish,
constricted as it pulls its blanket-tubes tight,
to force flow to those alien outer reaches,

she’s looking hard at her hands, her finger tips,
glittered with a flakey, mauvey
rose, worn like the toes
of her heels which punch the stairs
at the Clark Street Blue
Line, treacherous even when
not decorated with the season’s
salty slush—it’s their twisting lope, as if a giant
wrung them out, and the cement
was never pressed,
indiscernible to the eye but off-kilter
enough to the feet, whose
calloused ribs know the feel of a solid,
straightforward staircase, know the absence
of any warp or woof and when they hit
cement before they should
the ashen pallor of her skin strikes her as fitting
for such a season of retreat, of blanketing grey,
simultaneous hardness and softness,
like that of her gloves,
into which her thin, bloodless hands slip,
not worrying, no not worrying anymore, about their
size, the thinness of her fingers, or how easily
something might slip off—with everything
boxed up, including
that gold band that had held so much promise
that spring that year, now in its own, less
deceitful box, hidden inside another, inside another
she glances around

at other winter hands, pallid and tightly wound
like blanched licorice strings on skeletal twigs
and wonders if anyone in her car can feel the bent in
the Lake Street stairs or hides barren knuckles in black,
velvet gloves, she makes a point to study
faces that are twice or thrice removed, reflections of
reflections, fiberglass panel, window, door—
that sort of thing.

* * *

the walk home: the street is abandoned, a last burst
of autumn tricking everyone into thinking fifty is cold

and so the locusts shed their gold jewelry in fits
and bursts, in antipathy, in communist resignation
their remaining gnarled claws close upon the
last bit of fall, their rusting tone
reminding her of the drag of time, the current
and her oar against it, pushing up against and then
around it

but not before veering her toward the shore in a lazy,
gravity-less spiral, and not before miring her
in the syrupy dredge beneath the undercut bank
this is where she will stay (in the secret of her gloves)
until spring, when the locusts again adorn their young
in golden-green jewelry (and she will wait
to find out if time has dulled that which shrunk her hands,
trimmed the fat from her fingers,
slowed the blood to her extremities,
which always made it slide so smoothly, and cleanly,
and inconspicuously (but apocalyptically) off)

for now, it is winter’s set, and the
slushy soot in the grain of the train’s rubber
floor sinks toward the Lake

twenty rivers, locked in their course

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