Before we met, we’d both suffered
had children with those previous partners.
With white paint, he covered an almost round rock.
Used ebony to letter “2ndChance”
placed it at the bottom edge of our driveway.
He was a machinist by trade
but excelled at carpentry.
He had a brawny back.
Muscled arms ended with strong hands–
hands that hoisted heavy boards and cement blocks
deftly hammered nails
tightly anchored screws with precision.
He built front and back porches
to adorn our modest home.
Every slat measured to perfection
as he stooped down, his eye aligned
with the bubble of the level.
A two-story tree house built at the edge of the woods
of our farmette
crafted for the children.
An outside ladder
led to the upper deck.
Hiding out, any of our combined four children:
Looking for privacy?
To escape his ‘finding out’ about some actual misdemeanor?
or one imagined while he was in an inebriated state?
Impressed with his own handiwork,
he built an addition to our back porch,
a ladder for me to climb and relax at roof level.
“You could sunbathe naked” he said, proud of this idea.
Mostly I used it to escape—not unlike our children.
The beer ruined him;
up to a case a day when I left.
Dead at 57.
Natalie, his oldest, with two little boys.
Five years later, a new son, and
I visited often to help with the boys;
give encouragement, hope, tenderness, love.
Four years she battled,
sometimes bloated from medication
other times frail as a starving waif
torturing her body with every new experimental drug.
One Sunday, while trying to encourage her to eat something,
I noticed it.
“Your hands,” I said as I took one of hers in mine.
“You have your father’s hands.”
My throat felt tight as if a stone were stuck there.
“It’s the meds,” she said. She meant the darker color of her skin
as if it were sun bronzed
like her dad’s.
It was more than that.
With all the heartache, the illness,
her hands had his strength.
In her much weakened state, those hands . . .