Ludean's Hands

You notice them right away. They
are large, work-rough, have built
a farm on the plains of west Minnesota,
where they work not acres but sections;
hands whose nails are thick and dark,
that know how to clip out the hurtful
back teeth of piglets, castrate them with
a knife; untangle green soybean vines
that jam the combines; make hay
and crop wheat; hands that built a good
life, that worked to grow his children
into a banker, a lawyer, a teacher, the one
farmer working the home place. He and
his brothers are solid Christian men
who speak their English with traces yet
of Norwegian melodies. They have us
join hands and say the “Come Lord Jesus,”
or sing the “Be present at our Table Lord,”
with easy grace, and make words
like “harvest” and “visit” dense by
tenting them between noun and verb,
solid and moving at once, thing-alive.
“I was King,” he once said to us.
He meant Prom. He certainly was.

His Queen, Fern, was mugged by gangs
of cancer. He helped her to live.
There was no question of that.
He brought her to doctors in search
of recovery (though it was hopeless),
with his hands, large and firm
and tender, he would grab her behind
her back, lift her into her wheelchair.
“Ma, put your hands around my neck,”
he’d say, and pull her up by the belt.
“Push yourself with your legs.” And
she would cry out in pain. “I know
it hurts, but you’ve got to help.”
And she cried out again, but helped.
And then was wheeled to hospital.

She died. We did not go to her funeral.
Later, after a western trip where we
loved again space and plain, we came
through town. A visit. Harvest was
to commence next Thursday. The men
were at an iron show of large farm
machinery up by Fargo. Ludean,
himself, he too, larger than verb
and noun, a king, this spring
wed an old classmate. He had
found another. Fern is gone two
years January. He is seventy-six.
He is not done with living yet.

Steven Fortney

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