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When we overwhelm a village,

I am told to make sure

none will ever pull a trigger.

I go in with a machete,

come out with a sack of hands.

My fathers feed me, count the pairs.

In the darkness I feel cool

palms crawl up to stroke

my head, soft hairless

hand-backs on my cheeks.

Thumbs draw down my eyelids,

fingers shush my lips.


In a terracotta jar,

a tobacco-brown plant,

tight as a mummified fist.

'Leave it in the rain,

and see what happens.'

So we tipped it in the sink.

Amid the crockery

it unfurled and began to beg:

ever open, plaintive.

We kept it watered,

then, sick of supplication -

left it in the sun to clench.

The Hands

Michael Symmons Roberts

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translated from the Ukrainian written by
Halyna Kruk