"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

Prayer for Violet

Prayer for Violet

Bless those hands, O Lord, for they clawed the crust off the West Texas earth and sowed the cotton, plucked the soft clouds from the razor-edged bolls until their cuticles bloomed and bled. They lifted laughing toddlers onto canvas sacks and dragged them through the lovegrass, across miles, across decades. They did cruel things, too, country cruelties that seemed as necessary as digging out the milkweeds. Slitting a hog’s throat in a mean red line, or braining a Mexican gray wolf with a jagged rock to trade its fur. And of course they tanned many a child’s hide with a green mesquite switch, for how better to teach that a hoe is a tool, not a play sword? 

Bless those hands, for they diapered the bottoms of six children and twelve grandchildren, played Patty Cake and This Old Man on chubby bellies and dimpled knees, spun laughter out of dust. When medicine was too expensive, they tucked a fried egg in a warm dishrag and held it to a small, aching ear, and it soothed. 

Bless those hands, for they tried to do more kind than cruel. 

Bless those hands for feeding us, along with how many others? Surely more than I can count, from armies of Dust Bowl farmers to those six suckling babies, whose downy heads they cupped against the breast while the rain drummed down on the dugout’s corrugated tin roof. Bless them for holding those babies to the breast long after they grew into thirsty children, because the years were lean and the milk was free. 

Bless those hands, for they clutched the cold edge of what no hands ever should, a dead son’s casket. Then they reached down and scooped up a fatherless boy, wiping away his tears as the box descended into the warm earth, the place those hands knew best of all. 

Bless those hands, for they held more than we could carry.

Bless those hands, for they grasped for less than they were owed.

Bless those hands, for they labored hard so that one day, I, the youngest granddaughter, could sit in my climate-controlled office, using my hands for nothing more than lightly tap-tapping my imagination into language.

Sarah Curtis holds an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives in Michigan. Her work has been noted in 2018 Best American Essays, nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Salon, River Teeth, Assay, and elsewhere.

Cover photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash