by Rennie McQuilkin

Descending from the second story
I steady myself, hand sliding on the handrail,
then polishing the knob of the newel.

Time has worn away its gray, revealing
the rose of earlier days and hints of darker
shades below. For over two hundred years
and twelve wars, such a scoring by hands.

In the wash of history, time shrinks.
I remember placing my palm on the red ochre
print of a hand in a Utah cave, surprised
by the almost perfect fit.

At the newel, I fit my hand to the backs of
other hands that touched its round in passing:
hands of lovers ascending,
hands of mourners descending, slow hands
of the old, quick of the children rushing by.

And I feel the hands of those to come,
the sad and the joyful taking their turns,
their palms brushing the back of my hand
where it rests on the newel.