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Poem: Hold Hands

Sometimes the point takes you to some memory that is faint. The memory might not even be yours. And this is one of those poems, in which David Baker has me thinking of what I’ve gained and lost trying to be there for my own children, for the relatives I love but don’t call enough. And “Hold Hands,” like some of our most intimate moments, ain’t a story that’s easy to understand. But it’s the story we return to, hoping to remember that then “we were holding hands as hands/were holding us.” Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

Credit…Illustration by R.O. Blechman

Hold Hands

By David Baker

We were in the trees. White curtains opened.
Your shoulders in my hands then your knees
drew upward. Rain like petals there. Rain
like breeze. Now the birds were in the trees
two stories up, our window, where blowing
leaves were level with our sheets. We were
in the street. We were holding hands as hands
were holding us. What hands there were were
where we were. In trees. Our children there
as songbirds were. The hands where we were
in the trees were holding us there. Where we
were in the street. Please the rain to please
the petals in the breeze like rain. Please to
draw your hair along my hands your hands
are holding us. Lines along the window lane
are holding us like songs. As now the songs the
sirens in the trees. Lines along the window lane.
Your hair in feathers where the children are.
Whose curtains singing. Whose hands are
holding us who cry like birds. Hold hands.
The birds are in the trees. The birds our
children there in cages singing in the trees.


Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate and install microlibraries in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. His 2018 article in The New York Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to working lawyer won a National Magazine Award. He is a 2021 MacArthur fellow. David Baker is a poet whose latest collection is “Swift: New and Selected Poems” (W.W. Norton, 2019). The poem above is from his forthcoming collection, “Whale Fall” (W.W. Norton, 2022). He teaches English at Denison University.

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