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Poem: For All The Hands I've Had to Grab Before I Could Grab a Plate, by Jason McCall

poet Jason McCall
Jason McCall

This poem is presented in partnership with Southern Foodways Alliance, first published in the “Gravy for Breakfast” e-newsletter

There are the nieces and cousins happy

to be included in the circle to show they can

hold hands and hold their eyes shut during the prayer

like the big kids they’re watching from the corner

of their squinted eyes.

There are the teenage boys who never know how

to hold a hand without squeezing or pulling

away at the first syllable of “amen.”

There are the grandparents and aunts and uncles whose

hands carry my family history of failures and

factories and fieldwork and footholds all cashed

in to buy us a seat at the table, to buy the table, to buy

the food on the table, to buy the gas and tickets and hotels

it took to make sure we were all at the table.

There are hands that you’ll swear

are bigger every year. Hands you’ll swear aren’t

getting smaller every year.

Hands that talk

and tell you “I love you,” “I missed you,” “I know

you didn’t mean it,” “I know you meant it, but

you can’t stop me from loving you” just

by the way they tap the back of your hand before

locking your fingers in place.

Hands that feel like a door

closing and leaving the weight of a wet winter in the yard.

Hands that feel like a door

opening and setting you free into the first bite of spring.

Jason McCall is the author of one essay collection and half a dozen collections of poetry. An Alabama native with an MFA from the University of Miami, he spends his days teaching at the University of North Alabama and his nights praying for the day that Florence (AL) gives him a restaurant that serves gyros and fries.

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