He Used it to Button the Jacket

the day my stepfather cut his thumb

off, he walked into the garden

where my mother was dead-heading the Little Lulus

asked her to help him find it in the sawdust below

the half-built planter he was making for her marigolds


in the workshop, blood red as litmus in acid

soaked into sawdust, ends of mahogany, cherry wood, teak

the end of a calloused thumb winter-red and split

mom picked it up, placed it in a Ziploc

drove him to the hospital, still calm, he kept

asking about her flowers, his hand held over his head

wrapped in the old tea towel she had been wearing over her shoulder


he misses that thumb

used it to button the jacket of his

Hitler Jugend uniform as a boy of ten

used it to carry his meager belongings to the ship

bound for Canada after Bremen was destroyed by the Allies

after he swore never to speak of that uniform again


he doesn’t feel like finishing the planter

sometimes he thinks the thumb is still there

and it hurts like a son-of-a-bitch especially

with a sudden change in barometric pressure

his inertia spills into lunch

my mother shelters him from points of knives

offers to butter his bread

her hovering badgers him

into silence      he cracks the angry stump

against faucets and corners


during Scrabble, we challenge him on his use of Kairo

my mother argues that he can’t play a German word

I defy him to find it in any of the six

dictionaries strewn about the kitchen table

besides, the point is moot

as no place names are allowed


flaps of sutured skin open fresh

as he fumbles against the edges

of the dictionary looking for another use

for his prize five-point K


tonight mom and I play alone as he sits in the recliner

facing the television      Saraband for Dead Lovers is on

he’ll drop everything to watch Joan Greenwood

beguile suitors in old British melodramas

soon, we hear a soft snoring, his thumbless hand

propped up on a pillow on the armrest

droplets of blood touch the page edges

of Bremen Kaput open on his tired lap