"The Beech Nut" by Shane Seely

I did not imagine

such hands could be so delicate

as he cracked the beech nut open

and offered me the tiny jewel of meat inside.

His palm was a field

left fallow through the winter,

in which I might watch white-tailed deer

leap a fence or linger into dusk.

With a finger the girth and color

of a shovel handle, he nudged

the burred husk

and pried the soft nut free.

Those hands, which I had seen

wring a chicken’s neck

as though they were returning the cap

to the jug of milk in the refrigerator.

Those hands, which I had seen

fix tractors, fell hemlocks,

lead cattle to their slaughter

by the horn.

The beech nut tasted

exactly as the forest smelled

that sun-ripe day

early in the winter, a little sweet,

with an overtone of something just beyond

my apprehension.

Years later he would wait

with my mother and the hospice nurse

for death to come. With his hands

he would smooth the care-home’s gown,

the color of the sky

in which the clouds are stained with blue

by the indefatigable sun, or he would fold

his hands across his chest.

Other times he would raise those hands

before his eyes

and say to the shadows in the room,

What can a strong man do to leave this life?