My hands know what to expect, tugging the stuck lid open
lavender silver-polish, finely granular, faintly greasy.
Dip the worn white sponge, smearing up a load and rub
holding tight the dampened tableware: spoons, forks, knives.
Later my hands will ache from gripping, joints a little stiff
reminding me of Grandmother’s hands, her spoonbowl
centered on the table, its blue and white porcelain curves
arches of willowy branches draped over peaceful riverbanks.
A bowl of silver-plate spoons engraved McA in Scottish pride.
Three-years-old I was, helping Grandmother set the table
checking the number of spoons, with knives and forks at places
plates, bowls, glasses, napkins carefully balanced so Mother
would rest after her work at the busy bakery and my big sisters
would have to play with me because I was a good girl.
Yes, now I must polish my own vines and roses, silver-plate
roses reminding me of Grandmother’s flowers, lilacs and lilies
and the limbs of her loaded trees bearing pie cherries and peaches.
My hands know what to expect, picking fruit and now silver—
tarnish blackening the sponge, tarnish washing down the drain
my porcelain sinks reminding me of the old enamel dishpans
the single cold water faucet, the teakettle bearing boiling water
steaming the white, oval containers to the tops of their red rims.
Hands and cups buried wrist-deep in foamy white suds
it’s the old after dinner team of sisters washing glasses
china, silver, kettles, skillets—cleaned and dried and ready.
Dishwater flung to the alley outside the derelict toolshed
and damp white flour-sack towels hung up—folded to show
simple embroidered scenes of sewing, baking, courting.
Our lives told in cotton and blessed by nimble fingers.