By Mather Schneider


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

stupid job.
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

the sunlight.
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.


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
sits frozen

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.