I cannot see your face in the mirror.
Standing behind you at the porcelain sink,
I lean forward so my arms circle you.
Your hair tickles my collarbone.
The green stool is pushed too far under the basin’s edge—
your feet balance precariously on its very back, heels in the air.
But you pushed that stool into place yourself, so I say nothing.
I carefully watch the edges of your scrunched up sleeves as you stretch for the faucet’s stream of water to make sure the water doesn’t creep up your arms,
soak your cuffs. You probably wouldn’t care,
but I learned handwashing from your brother, who always did.
If I put my hands below yours under the water you don’t mind.
Otherwise you say “Me!” and push back against me with your shoulders.
I turn off the tap, give you your soap first.
Lavender fills the small room.
Dissatisfied with your lather
you present your hands to me, thrusting them forward into mine.
I hold your right hand in my right,
your left in my left.
Neither of us speaks.
No sound but the soap as it slips and pops and slows the circles of my thumbs—
I don’t think about teaching you the right way to wash your hands:
the number of seconds, the length of the ABC song,
sequence of fingernails and wrists.
I feel your small hands submitted to mine like an offering—
slices of mango laid reverently on an altar,
a candle lit beneath a photograph.
These small hands that came into the world curled up under your chin,
remained that way for months
before you reached out to the world,
before you learned to push a flat palm out to say Back!
Stop! Or with a slight flick,
Slow bubbles over your upturned palms
One fingernail cut crooked to leave a tiny triangle on one side
scratching at my skin as I massage the tips of your fingers the way I would knead your father’s scalp or rub my mother’s feet
Thread my fingers gently between yours, softly separating them, not too far apart
Your head turns back and forth to watch my fingertips intently
palpate one hand, then the other.
Soap casts its spell over us both,
and for as long as you are willing
has the power to stop time,
here at two.