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Handprints on the Walls of Ancient Caves, a poem by Angela Williamson Emmert

Handprints on the Walls of Ancient Caves

Was it a grandmother’s 

work, an old woman 

gathering the children

at the wall, their lives

ever expanding like lungs 

taking in air, blowing stone 

on spread fingers covering 

the wall in crushed ochre, 

a field for hands, a world 

formed around them, held

open?  The grandmother

paints to live in the space

made of children’s hands.


A baby riding in the crook 

of one arm and a toddler 

escaping the other, I am in 

love with myself, my body 

flawless for the hunger 

of a child, for the pain 

of a child awake and lonely.

I have grown nerves 

to probe the dark corners

of a cave or a living room. 

I tingle, push my finger

into the mouth of a child,

scoop out the lucky penny,

metallic scent and a glimpse

of the small ochre tongue.


The front door opens.

The house takes a breath,

sighs when they leave.

Ochre but for the placing 

of hands, splayed fingers

with tiny tips, tapered.

Angela Williamson Emmert lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and sons.