Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Consider the Hands that Write this Letter - Aracelis Girmay

after Marina Wilson

Consider the hands

that write this letter.

Left palm pressed flat against paper,
as we have done before, over my heart,

in peace or reverence to the sea,
some beautiful thing

I saw once, felt once: snow falling
like rice flung from the giants' wedding,

or strangest of strange birds. & consider, then,
the right hand, & how it is a fist,

within which a sharpened utensil,
similar to the way I've held a spade,

the horse's reins, loping, the very fists
I've seen from roads through Limay and Esteli.

For years, I have come to sit this way:

one hand open, one hand closed,

like a farmer who puts down seeds & gathers up;

food will come from that farming.

Or, yes, it is like the way I've danced

with my left hand opened around a shoulder,

my right hand closed inside 

of another hand. & how I pray,

I pray for this to be my way: sweet

work alluded to in the body's position to its paper:

left hand, right hand

like an open eye, an eye closed:

one hand flat against the trapdoor,

the other hand knocking, knocking.

This lovely poem is full of images of renewal and life, tied directly to the body's position when writing a letter.  Writing a letter is treated here as an act of generative, sincere love.  The hand which holds the paper down has seen beauty, and is reverently pressed to the paper, as if to a lover's heart.  That hand which anchors the letter has been held to the heart at the sight of the sea and touched the purest of snow.  

The right hand, the write hand, holding the pencil.  This hand has held tools, reined in a horse, has traveled the world.  The pencil, fueled by wild ideas and flights of poetic fancy, must sometimes indeed feel like a rampaging stallion.  I've known that feeling where I want to write too fast for my own good.  A steady handhold on the pen can save a good idea from becoming a rushed idea.

The two hands together, this mixed posture of open and closed, is an act of generation, much like a farmer sowing seeds and reaping a harvest.  A letter can be seen as the seeds of correspondence, and the harvest friendship.  Writing is an act of prayer, of "sweet work."  Lastly, the image is given of two hands against a trapdoor, one held flat, the other knocking.  I see this an invitation to the table, to write out own letters.  The knock is for us to open our hearts.

The repetition of the word "knocking" at the end is a nice bit of word painting.  It's as if Girmay is saying, "Let me in!  Let poetry and love in!  Write!"  She's wise to do so, as just writing about this poem has greatly lifted my spirits.  Maybe I'll need to hand-write some more letters soon.  It does have a special feeling to it, captured beautifully in this poem.


  1. It makes me wonder, since she is a contemporary Poet, did she write this first with pencil and paper before moving it to an electronic medium?

    1. I certainly hope she did! That would be a wonderful image.