Laura McCullough

The Man With Small Hands

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?”

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
T.S. Eliot
Men always want things bigger,
and he lamented his small
hands, fine as ebony sticks
alive by some alchemy.
We women were coming and going
talking as we do: My husband’s hands
are so small, we share wedding bands.
My brother plays banjo – twelve
strings – callused beyond belief.

Come here, we said, show
us those hands,
and he complied, holding them
out for inspection,
but not really – in his holding
was a withholding, tight
curl of day’s light
springing shut on his breast
bone – clanging noon
fire-bell loud.
His hands were sad, dead
claws, unscuttling
crabs that missed a tide,
and it was no one’s
damned business.
He turned his palms up
once, shaking them,
telling us why they were insufficient.
We women looked
hard as we could,
and I swear I saw coins
flash in them.
He could have been Michelangelo’s
David, standing naked among us,
or Michelangelo himself.
My husband has hands like yours.
My son broke his thumb once.

Outside, a shard of light coalesced
into something electric.
We ran outside to see.
Coins fell from the ocean
of the sky. How strange,
he said, and held his hands
up, that I can’t catch
them all. If only they were excellent,
my hands and the coins that fall.

He turned and said as if speaking
to the sea: that’s not it,
that’s not what I meant
at all.
We women, came
and claimed him for our own,
sewing currency into the cuff
of his pant legs, hoping
to weigh him down.
He lifted his hands,
brushing his own cheeks,
wing-dust falling like yellow fog
about his feet; his hands were large
butterflies against the lessening sky.

Laura McCullough
The Man With Small Hands is from the collection What Men Want (forthcoming from XOXOX Press, 2008), and first appeared in Nightsun, Dec. 2004.