The Custom of Shaking Hands

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

That was the year they stopped shaking hands,
the year the porch lights turned green
across the neighborhoods and backstreets
of Kentucky, and someone left roses
on the banks of the Green River
in remembrance of John Prine,
the troubadour of the common man.

That was the year they dug mass graves
in the vacant lots of Central Park,
stacks of plain wooden coffins
filed into the dirt like building blocks
fit together to form an inverse cathedral
to memories best forgot,
and the men in their white plastic suits
and their shovels just kept working,
set to the task of forgetting.

That was the year the famous book stores closed,
the restaurant chairs remained
upside-down on their tables,
their legs like palisades
poised to prevent unwelcome gatherings,
shopping malls, universities, churches
quiet as concrete,
mausoleums to the death of chatter,
the death of congregations,
the death of societal noise.

And the people began to wonder
when they might touch again,
if not to gain assurance
that they were greeted in good faith
without the presence of a gun,
maybe just to feel seen,
acknowledged as more
than another masked participant
in this orgy of the damned,
where every encounter
holds the sustenance of a mime.


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Provocative truth teller, author of 18 poetry collections. Cat dad. Dog dad. Currently working from Portland, Oregon. Learn more at:

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