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Washing Hands

My Father refused the darkness

My father refused the darkness


of his work-stained day. Every evening, the gray pumice soap disappeared into his large palm. Lather built and oozed over the grease that raised his fingerprints into dark whirlpools, turned his nails to charred bone. The nailbrush bristles spit flecks of soap as he scrubbed away the residue of failed transmissions, cracked heads, broken axles and snapped timing belts. Maybe he also hoped to calm the grinding pain in his knees and lower back, the worry over bills and rent. He scrubbed and scrubbed, until finally he held up his hands in the kitchen light. They dripped and shone, reborn. Soap bubbles slid down in patches, a few single orbs drifted off in iridescent wonder. His smile said it all. I think of those days now, with the nurse gone and the gaps lengthening between the rattle of each breath. I think of that smile and stare at his hands, their nails still white and glowing, defiant to the end.

crescent moon    as if that's all there is

Originally Published in Valley Voices 21:2

Image by Diane Helentjaris


That 1905 menu from the Chalfonte Hotel,

its scalloped border now brown and crisp.

You liked to pick out your favorites: Sea Turtle Soup,

Domestic Goose, Charlotte Russe and Figs.


An Art Deco poster of the High-Diving Horse,

captured in mid-air. A long-limbed rider, sleek as an eel,

tucks her head into its mane. Her strawberry hair

(“Like mine,” you’d say) shoots up like an eternal flame.


Now the hand-painted postcard: the Sunday Boardwalk.

Men in black bowlers, women in frocks, their waists

pinched tight by tulle. The ocean a robin’s egg blue.

On the back, a message that could have been mine:

My dear, where are you?


In the last sleeve, a note you once slipped in,

its paper the shade of a summer sea, and suddenly

I can’t breathe


love letter…

under its cursive

the undertow


An earlier version of "Ephemera" originally was published in Haibun Today 12:4.

Rich Youmans.jpeg

Rich Youmans has been writing haiku, haibun and related essays for nearly 40 years and still wonders where the time went. His most recent chapbook, Head-On: Haibun Stories (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2018), received an honorable mention in the Haibun category of the Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards. He is currently the editor in chief of contemporary haibun online and lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Alice.

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