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The Anatomy of the Hand

July 19, 1987|Ronald Wallace

\o7 Consider, she says, all the things

you could not do without hands.

And while she's appraising

the buttons and stays,

the feeding and hygiene,

the doorknobs and levers and drawers,

I'm watching handfuls of words fall away

into the lackluster cadaver bin

with all the amputated phrases:

grasp, snatch, hold, caress, and fondle,

touch, finger, fist, punch, and feel,

squeeze, clutch, grip, slap, and tickle,

heaped up with the glad hands,

the high hands, the upper hands,

the in hands, and out of hands,

even hands, under hands. . . .

Meanwhile, the hands, stiff on their meaty limbs,

yellow and waxen,

the skinned tendons splayed back

to display the conjunction

of nerve end and jointure,

tensor and flexor

phalange and digit,

the synovial sheaths,

the cutaneous circulation,

the horned fingernails

ordinary as corn,

the crabbed fingers bending

to fend off or fondle,

reaching up from their silvery tray,

say nothing.

She's talking with her hands,

she who would be

the perpetual wallflower--

studious, friendless, lost

in her glasses and splotchy complexion,

her mumble and stringy hair,

her pimples and shapeless frame--

while her hands,

delicate in their precision,

flash in the air, flutter and rush,

bloom and maneuver and swim through

the endless movements

of navicular, lunate, triangular, and pisiform,

her carpal diagrams and charts.

I imagine late hours at the anatomy lab,

alone with the hands

reaching up toward her, cradled

as if she were reading what's left

of their palms, or casually doing

their nails, or just holding on,

her own hands glistening with

acetic acid or sweat

to loosen the movement,

the last one asked to dance,

gently stroking the hands,

attentive to every nerve end and fiber,

every involuntary signal and twitch,

the hands, reaching, stretching,

the hands in her lap turning, dancing,

the hands saying nothing

in a language all their own.sg From "People and Dog in the Sun" by Ronald Wallace (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15260: $15.95, hardcover; $7.95, paperback; 66 pp.). Wallace, director of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin, has been published in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry Northwest, and elsewhere. This is his third collection. 1987 Ronald Wallace, by permission.

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