After we bought the house, I found myself
in the hardware store almost every day.
Long and narrow, the store was an amazing
magic barrel containing every thing
I needed. Presiding over this male domain,
like a librarian who knows where to find your book
among the myriad stacks, a man with white hair
and plaid shirt who smiled at me with his eyes
when he saw me and always found what I needed:
welcome mats, picture hooks, screws of every size
stored in tiny drawers, sandpaper, tape,
brushes, paint, stain, seeds, bulbs,
paint remover, a teapot without a whistle,
handles, locks and keys and keys and keys.
Standing behind the counter cutting keys
or leading me down the aisle, he joked with me
if I missed a day -- Where've you been?
Long time no see, and I'd say I can't stay away!
Then one day my husband came with me
to the hardware store and I introduced him
to the man behind the counter who'd been my guide.
And when my husband turned to look on the shelf,
the man reached up and gently brushed my cheek
with the back of his fingers, a fluid curve
down the side of my face, and our eyes locked.
What did it mean, this tender gesture?
Once I saw a play of deaf people dancing
their lines with motions set to music,
and this was the sign for "girl" --
the string of a bonnet draping down the cheek.
Whatever he meant, for me it was a key
to unlock my vault of battered memories,
a daughter's longing to be stroked instead of slapped.
As my father hit me he would say If you cry
I'll give you something to cry for.
This soft touch in a hardware store
soothes a daughter's longing.
PATTI TANA is Professor of English at Nassau Community College and Associate Editor of Long Island Quarterly. she is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently Make Your Way Across This Bridge: New & Selected Writings (Whittier Publications, 2003); and This is Why You Flew Ten Thousand Miles (Whittier Publications, 2006); and the editor of a new anthology of poems by sixty-three poets: Songs of Seasoned Women (Quadrasoul, Inc).