A BAG OF HANDS
By Mather Schneider
A BAG OF HANDS
Jalisco, Mexico. In a black plastic bag
they found them:
12 severed hands
removed from their owners, for thievery, por rateros,
and put in this bag, the kind of bag
you put beer in from Osco, filled with ice
but no ice for these hands, rancid, rotting
in the heat, flies, dried blood.
I’ve always hated my hands, small, red, wrinkly,
old man hands.
When I was in 3rd grade I looked
at my classmates’ hands and mine
were different. Ugly, deformed. Self-loathing.
Most of all I envied dark smooth hands,
Indian hands. I thought
they were beautiful. And now 50
years later I’m a taxi driver and I see this bag of hands
they found in Mexico
as a punishment
and a warning.
For 3 days I’ve been looking at these hands.
I think of that Sherwood Anderson story I read long ago
about the man whose hands got him into trouble
when he only wanted to love. That’s when
I wanted to be a writer. So many things to do
with these guilty hands, but writing seemed
a good thing. And people say:
you should take that bag
of hands and craft a novel around it, make
money, entertain people, quit this
I don’t know. It’s real,
that’s the problem, this black
plastic bag full of severed hands.
I’ve stolen things. Hasn’t everybody?
One time when I was young I was too sick for school
and I was home alone, in bed,
and a man broke into our house
and came into my bedroom, looking for loot.
I woke up and said, “Who are you?” He ran
stomping up the stairs, I heard the door
slam and his truck tires throw gravel out
of our driveway. The police asked if I
could recognize the man and I drew a picture of him
and they used the picture to convict him. He lived
a few miles away. I drew a picture of him
with my hands and everybody
said I was a real good artist.
Nobody likes to have their house broken into.
Nobody wants to work hard for things
and then have someone come along and steal them.
I just hope
it was the right man.
Now I am old and have grown
into my old man’s hands, but I still don’t
like them, these hands on the steering wheel
of this taxi cab, arthritic, ticking.
I keep looking at everyone’s
hands now, my passengers’ hands.
Some of them have scars
on their wrists. Some of them are grotesque,
worse than mine. Some of them
don’t work well, they tremble.
Some of them are beautiful and smooth
as buckeyes. Some of them are so calloused they cut
you when you shake them. Some of them cup
Imagine the hands
that held the thieves down, the hands that raised
the machete, the hands
that fell. Pretension
is a fog on the brain. The poets
scribble, the novelists invent.
Hand shadows, hand puppets,
hands of time, hands of God. A clock
without hands. Why
couldn’t that black plastic bag
have had a six pack of beer in it instead?
I remember when my wife first took my hand
walking in our old Tucson barrio.
My wife is Mexican
and she has lovely hands, hands that lifted
a barbed wire fence on the border, hands that turn
burgers to feed her father
back home. What would I not take
from this world to give to her? I ask myself
as I write these words with my numb hands.
Nothing? The truth is
I don’t know.
When you’re looking
at a black plastic bag full of severed hands
you don’t know what to think. Your mind stumbles
and claws at the air.
BREATHE THE DAMP
The Mexican hospital
is hot a long thin tube of light
sputters over the doctor’s bald head a polished
stone an x-ray hangs on the wall
a skeleton buried within it a ship
in a bottle on his desk
that my wife and I can see under
to his animal-skin shoes the floor chewed
by the wheels
of his chair a yellow stain in the corner
of the ceiling what horrors are happening
upstairs? I’m dizzy and seasick
at the thought of my angel’s urine
in a little cup the cups for the water dispenser
full of dust and spiders her knees swell red and hot
as roasted agave hearts molten tequila
sears each minute’s throat my poor Lupita
trembles on the doctor’s table Why are you nervous?
he asks her it’s only Death
preparing his needles his poison smile
like a fishing hook bone ready to give
birth to fire brave Chiquita
crippled at 43 twitching in pain she thinks of the baby
she could never have
cries and squeezes my hand
while the doctor injects her
as if to kill bugs in a wainscoting later that night
we lay in bed in the little house
in Hermosillo sweaty and sticky as flypaper lightning
starts in the south slices the Sonoran sky
like the soft underside
of a wrist rain
tramples the tin roof scrambles for cracks hail
like gravel on a coffin lid and a vile
merciless wind like the Devil
blowing out his birthday candles the lights
go black the blades
of the fan come poised everywhere is a doorway we open the window
lie there sprayed by saltless tears side by side
hand in hand breathe the damp curling sulfur
of a ghastly wish
About the Author:
Mather Schneider was born in 1970 in Peoria, Illinois. He lived in Washington state for many years and now lives in Tucson. His poetry and prose have appeared in the small presses since 1994 in places such as River Styx, Nimrod, Hanging Loose, Pank and Rosebud. He has 4 full length books available on Amazon including the July 2017 release of Prickly by New York Quarterly Press. He recently won runner up in the 2017 Rattle poetry chapbook competition.