All my life, I have somehow made it my business to protect men’s hands.
My father made a living as a guitarist for the Grand Ole Opry, Tommy Cash, and Tex Ritter (father of Three’s Company’s John). I made the connection at an early age that his hands were his living. And sure enough, after a 1990s car accident that left a foot crushed, his spirit emerged still intact: a bum foot didn’t stop him from fingerpicking after his late-night bowl of ice cream, and he could just sit down if he had to be on stage.
Fast forward to 2000, when I started dating my first husband. Another guitar-player; another pair of hands. And this guy, he has the cleanest, most charming male handwriting I’ve ever seen, so it would have been a shame for anything to happen to his dominant left. I made sure he had files and clippers at the ready, while I barely paid attention to my own nails, other than brushing them clean in the shower and biting them down when they grew past the tips of my fingers.
After the divorce came the surgeon. Our first date together, he sliced into a seared tuna steak with admirable precision. He wrote me letters from his quiet Canadian cottage. The few trips he could make down to see me, I paid great attention to his hands, wondering how many anesthetized bodies they had cut into, how many people were alive because of his skilled fingers.
And now, here is John Minichillo, my writer-husband, whose ability to type buoys his spirit. Typing means stories and novels; typing means communication with other writers, which means he stays connected to an entire community. It means that when I leave for work in morning, in a huff over something that was his fault or mine, he emails me expressions of his love so powerful that he reminds me what’s important. And also: he plays drums; he walks our dogs every day; he chops the garlic and opens the wine.
He is my second set of hands. My hands, for a reason yet to be identified by MRIs and EMGs, are becoming increasingly weak, shaky, uncoordinated. Almond butter jars and necklace clasps are torture for me, but easy for him. He gets our son in and out of his car seat, with its Houdini-proof buckles and buttons. So now someone is protecting mine.
But how did I protect all of these hands? What exactly did I do? It was mental and energetic, now that I think of it—all in my imagination. Willing open windows to not fall shut on hands that were repairing them. Staring at the hands chopping onions, inventing the rule that a watched knife never slips. Banning them from lighting fireworks. Admiring them. Imagining them surrounded by some sort of protective white light. Holding them in mine.
It was this, my history of guarding hands from real and imagined perils, that gave J.A. Pak’s “Fantasm” a solid place in my heart. Hands and magic are central here, as is the transformational strength of human relationship. This is not to say the story is fluffy and light—not at all. It reads, ever-so-slightly, like a Tom Robbins mythical improvisation and employs similar fairy-tale storytelling devices. Card tricks and sleight-of-hand, the smell of thyme on overworked gardening hands, nervous hands learning to play an ancient spinet, mothering hands—this story shows the intense power we hold, or, if we choose, give away.
Susan Rukeyser’s “Invasive Species” is short and potent. I identify with the way the character Sara leaps into her circumstances, and just as swiftly leaps out and moves on after feeling a good part of herself suffocate. Kudzu is a powerful metaphor—its invasion, its strangulation, its relentlessness and foreignness. And as a Tennessean, it’s a vine I’m intimately familiar with. There’s a thick green wall of it out the window in front of the desk where I’m typing this. There is even a restaurant I’ve visited in downtown Chattanooga called Kudzu, where the walls and menu are covered in drawings and photos of The Thing That Will Not Die. And this is the aspect of Rukeyser’s metaphor that is especially striking—that Sara’s attempt to rid her past from her life may well be for naught. The damn stuff always shows back up again, just when you think you’ve got it under control, and its fingers will grab hold.
Speaking of Tennessee, Michael Levan, a resident of Knoxville, has split me open with “To My Wife Exiting the Church and Looking Forward To Our New Life.” The first shadowy lines are boosted by the next ones—the recollection of youthful hope—so that the love described feels real, palpable, present, until the end strikes the chord of the beginning. The poem’s structure and quick, effortless shift in tone mimic the fleeting finger-snap moments when something gone feels like it never left. Here, hands bear the reminders of what’s true when brutal self-trickery sneaks up.
My three-year-old son speaks with his hands—true to his Italian heritage. His hands are delicious, dimpled, chubby; I could have eaten them whole in the weeks after he was born, when he’d press them on my chest to get his bearings, a kitten kneading a pillow. They are now in everything, exploring, learning, drawing robots with crayons. Doors and drawers shut abruptly; he howls. He walks toward a still-hot iron, and I warn him with a stern shout. But no matter what, when I kiss his hurt fingers, he swears it heals them. So I guess not all of my hand-patrol is imaginary.
And not to steal any credit here, but all of these guys in my life still have fully intact, functioning paws. Coincidence?
Photo Source: Cornwall Mission