With These Hands — Pam Ayres

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(The cemetery in the photograph above had more visitors than usual on Sunday because it was Mother’s Day.)


Posted by Belinda Forbes


In the foreword to the 2008 edition of her book WITH THESE HANDS, Pam Ayres writes that something unexpected has happened, ‘one of the poems … seems to have become popular at wedding receptions.’  Pam may be interested to know that I have occasionally been asked to read one of her poems at a funeral ceremony.  Many people say to me about the deceased, ‘She wasn’t really a poetry kind of person.’ And then with a smile they add, ‘Except for Pam Ayres – of course!’

So here’s one of my favourites, for all the mums who are gone but not forgotten.


With These Hands by Pam Ayres

With these hands so soft and clean,
On which I stroke the Vaseline,
I soothe the fever, cool the heat,
Lift verrucas out of feet,
Slap the plasters on the knees,
Dig the garden, prune the trees,
And if it doesn’t work at all,
I throw the mower at the wall.
With these hands I crack the eggs,
Floss my teeth, shave my legs,
Write the cheques, count the fivers,
Make rude signs at piggish drivers,
Clean the goldfish, light the fires,
Pump up half a dozen tyres,
Feed the hamster, worm the dog
And decorate the Yuletide log.
With these hands I block the lens
When taking photos of my friends,
This is Mary, this is Fred,
See their eyeballs all gone red.
With them I gesticulate,
I wag a finger, say, ‘You’re late!’
Throw them up, say, “Don’t ask me!”
And, ‘What’s that in your hand? Let’s see!’


With these hands, I fondly make,
A brontosaurus birthday cake,
I’m sorry for the shape it’s in,
But half of it stuck in the tin.
I pop the corn, I pick the mix,
I whack the cricket ball for six,
I organise the party game,
And clean up things too vile to name.
No pair of jeans do I refuse,
No Levis, Wranglers or FUs,
I wash them fast, I mend them quick,
I sew through denim hard and thick,
For no repair job makes me frown,
I take them up, I let them down,
I do the fly, I do the rip,
I do the knee, I do the zip.
And with these hands I dab the eyes,
Officiate at fond goodbyes,
As in the earth we gravely dig
The late lamented guinea pig.
I bow my head, cross my chest,
And lay his furry soul to rest,
Reflecting that, on many a day,
I could have helped him on his way.
I greet the folks who bang the door,
Fill the mouths that shout for more,
Scrape the trainers free of muck,
Gut the fish and stuff the duck,
I cart the shopping, heave the coal,
Stick the plunger down the bowl,
Take foreign bodies from the eye
And with these hands I wave


Reproduced by kind permission of Pam Ayres, from her book, WITH THESE HANDS, published by Orion Books.

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10 years ago

Thank you, you’ve managed to touch so many emotions with this choice… gratitude for our Mothers, sadness for our losses, pride for our own hands and the menial tasks they sometimes perform, inspiration for future funerals and pure joy at Miss Ayre’s masterful turns of phrase. (We’ve all been there with the guinea pig!)

10 years ago

Just a delight, many thanks Belinda, goes straight into my anthology.

Richard Rawlinson
Richard Rawlinson
10 years ago

Lovely, the mother comes alive on the page through her dutiful manual actions and the love that drives them.

Richard Rawlinson
Richard Rawlinson
10 years ago

Just emailed it my ma and I bet she appreciates it more than the overpriced Interflora flowers sent on Saturday. Thanks.

Belinda Forbes
10 years ago

Richard – you could buy your ma one of Pam Ayres’ books for her birthday. Lasts longer than flowers. I promise I’m not on commission!

10 years ago

You could hand it into her hands.

Les Rolfe
Les Rolfe
9 years ago

I am a Humanist Celebrant and took a service at a green burial site recently. I found another marvellous Pam Ayres poem ‘Woodland Burial’ which (minus the one mention of God) sums up beautifully the sense of returning to this earth and helping nature along. Check it out!

3 years ago

Great poem that’s defo me k rattrY