An injured man is forced to reassess his relationship to family and work in this moving poem from Jia Oak Baker.
Accident at the Vitamin Factory, 1976
According to the workman’s compensation schedule,
my father collected 70 weeks’ pay for the loss
of his second, third, and fourth fingers,
and another 30 for the machine clipping the tip
of his pointer and scalping the top of his thumb.
His right hand, unfamiliar with factory work
and now hewn down to the silhouette of a pistol,
learned to squeeze with what was left: a pincer grasp
Those afternoons when all a child wants is to play,
he asked my sister and me to rub the ache from the stubs.
We kneaded flesh, pressed and stretched, as if it would grow.
I did not then, comprehend his anxiety, a machine
much larger than the one that crippled his hand—
a machine that when he healed, compelled him to work
his remaining fingers to the bone. I did not understand
his embarrassment when he shook hands with strangers
or how he no longer looked into my mother’s eyes.
When my grandmother announced that day, This is the end of us,
I went to the hospital, petulant and afraid. He lay sleeping—
face colorless, hand suspended like a gauze marionette.
I could not have known what it would mean.
Months later when I would crawl into my parents’ bed,
my father would take the hand, cold and scarred,
and place it under my cheek.
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