My wife’s grandfather passed away a few days ago, and his funeral is this morning in South Carolina. This poem is in honor of Elbert Benjamin Newman, Sr.
I couldn’t help but notice your hands first, Granddaddy,
Your nails yellowed by coarse decades of work,
Your veins the color of wine.
Against the white cloth of your rolling hospice bed
They seemed translucent, thinning from the groan of
They’ve worn age well, these spotted hands,
Covered in the creases of your full life,
And I admit I laughed a little when your great-grandkids
Scooted close to say hello,
And you peered through the bifocaled tunnel of time
To smile back and twinkle two fingers
As best you could.
But when you winced and adjusted the tape on your bruising skin,
Scratching the IV in your limp fist,
I wanted to run out of that hospital,
Down the front, tightly-manicured lawn,
And leap into the clouds to see your life in sum,
Every living scene all at once.
I wanted to see those hands wriggle a ring on Grandmama’s finger,
Twist the ripcord of your parachute in the War,
Peel a hundred avocados, stranded in the Philippines.
I wanted to see you vote for Stevenson in ’52,
Build a furniture business with the strength of your iron will,
Raise a nurse, a preacher, and an heir to your company,
Then see your lineage expand
As generations branched and took your torch into the future.
I wanted to see your hands cradle each and every grandchild,
Each and every great-grandchild,
As you breathed in the lily air of new life.
I wanted to see your hands take up the fork and knife
And silently thank Grandmama’s every move with your cutting,
Pancakes, chicken, pie, and all her other glories,
Then gulp your gratitude after swishing sweet tea
From cheek to cheek.
They’ve worn age well, these spotted hands
That pulled me back down from the sky of my daydreaming
As if to say it’s time.
And it is.
So let us all smile and say goodbye, Granddaddy,
Loud enough for you to hear,
As we crowd around your recliner in our minds
And carry your legacy forward
Into another hundred years and more,
Speeding ever faster from a quiet pond in Camden.