My Mother’s Hands, from Journey Around My Room, by Louise Bogan


My mother had true elegance of hand. She could cut an apple like no one else. Her large hands guided the knife; the peel fell in a long light curve down from the fruit. Then she cut a slice from the side. The apple lay on the saucer, beautifully fresh, white, dewed with faint juice. She gave it to me. She put the knife away.

(Or she would measure off, with one forefinger set across another, the width of some ribbon or lace which had run in rows around the skirt and sleeves of some dress she loved and remembered. “Narrow red velvet,” she would say, or “white Val lace”; and the color and delicacy of the wide circles would be perfectly brought back into being. Or she would describe the buttons on some coat or winter dress: “cut steel” or “jet” or “big pearl.” Suddenly all the elegance of her youth came back.)

Her hands were large and her fingers were padded under their tips. Their chief beauty lay in the way they moved. They moved clumsily from the wrist, but intelligently from the fingers. They were incapable of any cheap or vulgar gesture. The fingernails were clear and rather square at the tips. The palms of her hands were pink.

When she sewed, and that, in my childhood, was rarely, I could hear the rasp of the needle against the thimble (she had a silver one), and that meant peace. For the hands that peeled the apple and measured out the encircling ribbon and lace could also deal out disorder and destruction. They could tear things to bit; put all their soft strength into thrusts and blows; they would lift objects so that they became threats of missiles. But sometimes they made that lovely noise of thimble and needle. Or they lifted the scissors and cut threads with a little snip.

From Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan, a book of exceptionally fine writing, in a category with John Guest’s Broken Images–so good I find myself slowing down to savor, slowing down to make it last.

Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan. A Mosaic by Rother Limmer
New York: Viking Press, 1980