Crooked-Finger Woman

by Susan Elizabeth Howe

I wait for you under a weeping birch.
I will climb through forked branches
to seek the message you’ve come for.

Which finger? you ask.  A thumb
is often thought of as a finger.
I do not say which was broken
when I caught the child falling through flames
and received sight in my hands.

Each of you brings an aura.
Some shag like rough wool,
some waiver, thin as new-spun silk,
some twist, sinew-tough.  They shimmer
only when I touch your chin, forehead,
press my hand’s heel
into the socket of your eye.

I point around single-minded claims.
I open with what you want
to believe about loss and lack.
What’s important will follow
the echo.

If you can’t find your way, the ground
is your best measuring device.

If you can no longer leave your house,
remember each road
on its way to the vanishing
point dips and rises many times.

If your own ambition throws you
consider as you fall the deep-seated,
ancient human quest for meat.

If you have lost your creature,
remember a thrown pot, a painting,
a woven coat surviving a decade
develops a soul.

If you seek power, your misshapen
fingers will ache in winter and crook
like a staff.  Stretch out your hands
to catch it.  You have been warned.

SUSAN ELIZABETH HOWE is a retired professor of English. Her poetry collection Salt is available from Signature Books. Her poems have recently appeared in Poetry, Western Humanities Review, and Atlanta Review. She lives with her husband Cless Young in Ephraim, Utah.

Photo by Caroline.