Essay on the One Hand and on the Other
Consider the palms. They are faces, eyes closed, their five spread fingers soft exclamations, sadness or surprise. They have smile lines, sorrow lines, like faces. Like faces, they are hard to read. Somehow the palms, though they have held my life piece by piece, seem young and pale. So much has touched them, nothing has remained. They are innocent, maybe, though they guess they have a darker side that they cannot grasp. The backs of my hands, indeed, are so different that sometimes I think they are not mine, shadowy from the sun, all bones and strain, but time on my hands, blood on my hands— for such things I have never blamed my hands. One hand writes. Sometimes it writes a reminder on the other hand, which knows it will never write, though it has learned, in secret, how to type. That is sad, perhaps, but the dominant hand is sadder, with its fear that it will never, not really, be written on. They are like an old couple at home. All day, each knows exactly where the other is. They must speak, though how is a mystery, so rarely do they touch, so briefly come together, now and then to wash, maybe in prayer. I consider my hands, palms up. Empty, I say, though it is exactly then that they are weighing not a particular stone or loaf I have chosen but everything, everything, the whole tall world, finding it light, finding it light as air.
Copyright © 2018 by James Richardson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“The left hand in other languages can be gauche or sinister. In English it might seem left out or left behind—and poetically it certainly is, though linguistically the hand's left comes not from the past tense of leave but from an Old English word meaning weak. The right hand is...well, right. One hand is dominant. And they both, like the moon, have darker and lighter sides. Surely our wordless hands have a lot on their minds.”
James Richardson is the author of During (Copper Canyon Press, 2016).
Date Published: 2018-04-13
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/essay-one-hand-and-other