Monday, January 5, 2009

HANDS


Hands have always fascinated me, and I attribute powerful healing qualities to them. I also feel that I can tell a lot about a person from the way he or she clasps my own hands during an introduction; I find it difficult to forgive a two-fingered, limp handshake. Some of my “beloveds”’ hands include the trusting, small hands of my children when they were young (more than likely dirty, rather than freshly-washed), the long-fingered hands of many of my musician friends, the rough palms of my father who spent hours gardening during his retirement, and the soft skin on the hands of my mother Dorothy and Godmother Dora, to name a few.

Hands are defined as tools for manipulating the environment, but I call them “nurturing agents.” In one short story, I begin the story with a description of hands: “Loren knew that the way he drew his dad’s hands was important. Hands did all the holding. They picked things up, pushed them away, and pulled them closer. Hands were the biggest part of the picture…”

I often pass signs advertising palm readers along the road here in Cajun country, but I’ve never stopped to investigate, nor have I wanted to pay the price to have someone hold my hand and tell me a story that I could just as well have created. The practice of palm reading really dates back to the Hindus, and the art of interpreting various lines in a person’s palm and foretelling bad and good occurrences in that person’s life deals with the symbols of earth, air, water, and fire. The palm reader can predict much by looking at broadness of palms, finger lengths, and skin colors, and can tell a lot about the person’s heart, head, and life events from scrutinizing the lines in a person’s palm. Palm readers lay claim to being able to determine the degree of vigor and vitality in a person by reading those varied lines.

There’s no conclusive scientific data regarding the accuracy of predictions by palm readers, and I always whiz by roadside signs advertising them and avoid getting my palm read – I’ve experienced enough of life’s vicissitudes to the extent that I don’t want to hear about more about the same misfortunes that might lie ahead. I’ll just observe some positive event like “Hands Day” in June when fraternal benefit societies and volunteer organizations get together to celebrate the GOOD work of many hands.

Famous replicas of hands include the “Praying Hands” painting by Albrecht Durer and the world’s largest praying hands at Oral Roberts University, a 60-ft. high, 30 ton sculpture in bronze. I’ve done my own commemoration of hands by writing many poems about them, including one about my father’s hands, my “first ever” poem to be published in “The American Weave” in 1967:

MY FATHER’S HANDS

Blessed be my father’s hands,
building square and chapped with suffering,
as they move in hills of mint,
combs of honey, hard mortar and wood shavings.
He moves among the rabbits and squirrels,
wood animals caught in finely-built traps,
skinning opossums, killing snakes, shooting hawks
beneath the shadow of a small church spire,
now stopping to drink of anything his cup will hold,
cursing my faithful mother who bobbles behind,
nervous with the noise of his greatness,
he who can turn a seed to black earth
and green leaps out of its mouth,
plane a piece of ribbed wood
and it becomes polished ivory.
As much of earth he knows,
so of design and structure,
the shape of his building
before it becomes.
Work, he says, and work,
and when you wake in the night,
despair shaking your building,
Just sing,
(rudiments – these my father’s rudiments).
When storms enter the sky
and great bells of thunder
shake my mother’s heart,
he sits, feet atop a table
on the rotting screen porch,
rolling a pungent tobacco into withered paper
and flailing his arms at the grey sky,
shouting “Invictus” in drunken crescendo,
heavy with rhetoric
as he bellows the captainship of his soul.
My father’s face is an erosion
beaten upon by his own square German temper,
nose flared as the mast
of his rocky captainship
and eyes that hold a brown softness
incongruous with his other erosions.
Blessed be my father among men,
for he knows work
and earth and growing things,
and shall truly live
with his weather-stripped hands
all his days –
Blessed be his hands.
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