Poem of the Week | October 18, 2011

Our feature this week is a previously unpublished poem by Paisley Rekdal called “A Hand.” Rekdal is the author of a book of essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee and three books of poetry, A Crash of Rhinos, Six Girls Without Pants, and  The Invention of the Kaleidoscope. A hybrid photo-text memoir that combines poems, nonfiction and fiction, entitled Intimate, and a fourth collection of poems, entitled Animal Eye, are forthcoming in 2012. Her work has received the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Village Voice Writers on the Verge Award, an NEA Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, the University of Georgia Press’ Contemporary Poetry Series Award, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, and the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review. Her poems and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming from The New York Times Magazine, American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, Poetry, Virginia Quarterly Review, Tin House, and on National Public Radio among others.

A Hand

–Rosenthal Glove Mold, ca. 1920

 

Porcelain-fleshed, menorah-fingered, it rises

 

from its dresser perch like a ghost’s

attempt to claw its way through shelves

of sweaters, solidify inside the fragile air

 

that Janet cannot breathe.

 

Her body buckles from another seizure.

Bob adjusts the oxygen rope, injects

her chest stent with vials of adrenaline: the hand

 

from its dresser saluting their struggle: white

as bone, Janet once described it, though white

 

is hardly accurate to those pieces strewn across the fields

behind her home. Bones of deer and moose left

by hunters, mountain lions; a broken

 

morse code of blues and mauves, of bloody taupes

where the flesh was stripped, dirt ruts trucked

into the flaking enamels–

It’s rare to find something perfectly intact

 

as Janet’s German glove mold cast, its bisque wrist

with the number stamped on it,

greenware slurry fired

twice from elbow to wrist to make it slick as the whites

 

of Janet’s eyes. Ten years

 

she hasn’t left the house. Lyme’s disease

has wormed throughout her brain, eating holes,

muddying synapses. Thinning out her friends. Take my hand,

 

her husband, Bob, says, as I take in the sweep

of their apartment: its bird cages and syringes.

Janet takes his hand, starts to stutter about the night

 

we spent camping before her illness. The sky

was a bath of stars, she says,

and when I pulled the tent flaps back

I thought I saw a white deer flicking past.

 

None of this ever happened.

But of all things now, why care

for accuracy? In the fields

 

I’ve often watched them, deer

on trails once carved by settlers. There was

 

a massacre near here. I think I read

of the mutilations its victims suffered: eyes torn out and lain

on rocks; chins and teeth chopped out; brains taken,

the muscles of calves, thighs, stomach and heart–

 

Who was it who came and washed

the bodies off, found them clothes, sawed down the feathered ends

of arrow tips?

Who knows. That book,

if I ever had it, is lost.

 

Bob soothes and strokes the sallow face. A letter

 

Janet wrote me once swims back: “You don’t know

what he did in the army, what he’s said, what he’s been. I live alone

while living with him. Like everyone, he’s dangerous–“

 

I sit and watch Bob arrange a plate of cookies. Who can tell

what’s happening to them, her brain folds palely

smoothing out? “I am,” she says, “a poor

approximation of myself.” As a gift, I’ve tried to find

 

a right mate for her left hand, wandered the antique shops

to find the pumiced half she’s read each mold should have.

No shop can find a match.

 

Janet drifts to sleep upon the couch.

Bob shakes my hand, thanks me at the door.

When I leave, I’ll walk

 

the acres past their house, relieved

that I can do it, relieved at this winter’s clarity

of air inside my lungs, how deeply

 

I can breath it, stumbling down the path.

 

I’ll walk over the body before I see it.

Its stripped hide and missing belly. I’ll startle

only once inside, my boot

 

upon its shred of neck; beside me, a single, white tine

struggling from the grass.

 

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