Poem of the Week | October 18, 2011
Paisley Rekdal: "A Hand"
Our feature this week is a previously unpublished poem by Paisley Rekdal called “A Hand.”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–
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.
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?
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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