Handless Came the Maiden

by JoSelle Vanderhooft


Father, take my hands.
The creek has dried up like a scar,
the ancient mill wheel hesitates, then turns
somnambulant as the high Summer clouds
cord through the restless heavens.
Our house is thin and broken by December,
and everything is dust.
Everything, the floor board where mice prints
creep to corners, the larder where our stale bread
wastes to wings and twitching.
Everything except the apple tree.
It blossoms in our yard like Jesus
resurrected, fingers clasping so much sky,
bearing fruit like wounds.

Father, take my hands
and I will pick them,
let their ripeness stain my palms in second veins,
the pungent pulp pool underneath my nails
and re-form my cuticles in green.
Take my hands
and I'll bear them to market.
My voice as ragged as the crows from calling
I will sell them to the toothless crone,
the pregnant duchess gnawing on soup bones,
even children whose soft, unlined brows
remind me of their taste -– both sweet and sour.

Take my hands
and I will stay until the butcher drops his awnings,
until my basket's wicker work
throws rib-thin shadows to the dust.
Only then will I trace the long road home
pebbles blistering through my thin shoes
to place my meager earnings in your palm.

You will push them back, of course.
My dress trails into rags,
and you would see me dance in velvet
like the merchants' girls.
Your hand is scarred with sun and work
and shame wavers on your lips like heat.
So I will close each finger on the coins
and remind you bacon is worth more
than my vanity.
I will press your knuckles in my palms
as if we were reversed, reminding you
these hard times are not your fault
and I have no cause to hate you.
Father, take my hands.


Father, take my hands.
The apples have crumpled into fists,
the dead leaves bristle in the wind
skeletal as the curved branches
divide the Harvest Moon.
Tall and thin as candles, the pale Stranger
offers a hand that leaks coins like blood
and everything is gold.
Everything, the footsteps your dear feet
traced to the broken well, your pockets
empty of all things but dust and promises.
Everything except the apple tree.
It withers in our back yard like the closed
tomb, trunk bending down to earth
seeds tumbling like tears.
But you cannot know I stand beneath
eyes upraised to find the fruit
the ravens have not spoiled.

Father, take my hands
and I will wed him,
allow his lust to pool between my thighs,
his nails to tangle through my unbound hair
until I rot like wood unveiled by spring.
Take my hands
and I will follow him
lest he foreclose on you instead.
I will wash his shirts and stretch them
on the Inferno's acrid winds.
I will sit beside him on a throne of ash
And let him bruise my tongue with apples
'til I have forgotten sunlight and the river's whisper.
Adders will spill with my blood into the dust
and the howling damned will be my kin.

Take my hands,
so I may crawl beneath the earth
into his bed.
Take my hands,
and don't weep, Father,
lest our tears scrub them so clean
they will burn him like a baptism.

He will push them back, of course.
My fingers are too hot and virtuous,
and he would see me bow into the dust
like a good wife should.
Your hands shake underneath his threats
and shame dances on your brow like pain.
But I will close your fingers on the coins
and remind you sugar is far sweeter
than my vanity.
I will hold your hands harder than life
and kiss your cheek, reminding you
this mistake was not your fault
and I have no cause to blame you.
Father, take my hands.


Father, take my hands.
He will return, sure as the heavy snows
have laid our apple tree out like a corpse.
Deep in December, everything is white.
Everything, the wedding dress my mother
wore to the chapel and my christening,
the bones I boil nightly into broth
everything except our eyes.
They spill like rain from tulips
opened, desperate, the world so large
flowering again despite ourselves.

Father, take my hands
or he will take you,
and we will be left howling.
Take my hands between your palms
as I have held you in our long dark nights,
take my hands and put them on the carving block,
take my hands and slowly raise your knife

It is just a piece of meat
one I would sell at market
if the season wanted
and taste favored it.
Think of it as this if it will help,
think of it as my marriage gift.

You will step back, of course.
I am too dear
and you would lead me down the aisle
like a daughter,
not an offering.
Your hands shake with promises and grief
and you will refuse.
So I will close each finger on the hilt
and remind you that you are worth more
than my vanity.

I will raise your knuckles
higher than your head as our cries
break against the clouds, storm-sharp and wild.
I will raise your wrist until your bones
your dear old bones! -– grind like our mill
and our arms twine in trees,
in apple branches.
I will kiss the water from your eyes like Jesus
washed the feet of his disciples
and remind you, this is for your good.
This is for your good.

The knife is swift. It splits both air and bone
like lightning.
I have no cause to hate the one I'd save.

Father, take my hands.


JoSelle Vanderhooft's poetry and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Jabberwocky, Mythic, Aoife's Kiss, Star*line, Not One of Us and others. Her first novel, The Tale of the Miller's Daughter, was released in June, 2006 by Papaveria Press. Her second novel, Owl Skin, will be released in early 2007, also from Papaveria. She is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology Tiresias Revisited: Magical Tales for Transfolk from Lethe Press. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she works as the assistant editor of a small newspaper.

She is also currently reading Sylvia Plath's Ariel (the restored edition) for the first time, as well as Ovid's Heroides.

Back to Table of Contents.