When all the water had run from her mouth,
and I’d rubbed her arms and legs,
and chest and belly and back,
with clumps of dried moss;
and I’d put her to sleep in a nest of grass,
and spread her dripping clothes on a bush,
and held her again – her heat passing
into my breast and shoulder,
the breath I couldn’t believe in
like a tickling feather on my neck,
I let myself cry. I cried for my hands
my father cut off; for the lumpy, itching scars
of my stumps; for the silver hands
my husband gave me that spun and wove
but had no feeling; and for my handless arms
that let my baby drop – unwinding
from the tight swaddling cloth
as I drank from the brimming river.
And I cried for my hands that sprouted
in the red-orange mud – the hands
that write this, grasping
her curled fists.
*In Grimm’s version of this story the woman’s hands grow back because she’s good for seven years. But in the Russian version they grow as she plunges her arms into a river to save her drowning baby.