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  • My friend Susan Bryant, who took this photo of my hands, collects photos of hands. She also collects daguerreotypes of dogs and rusty blue-painted chairs and globes--or maybe that is her husband. She has models of hands above the cabinet in her studio, full of expression. Such are the reasons I like being friends with artists. They whittle out little nooks and fill them with personality.

    The hand is itself a carving shaped by the actions of many days. Seeing this photo, I remember it has been a year since I have let the soil grind its fine grains into my nails, pushing bean seeds into my mother's garden. I see the hands of my father's mother, crotcheting a scratchy afghan. I see the hands of my mother's sister, pulled tight with tension, the nails bitten back from clawing at the seam of herself.

    I wonder at the gestures I will not make. I have held a baby's toe, canned tomatoes, flipped off mothers and ministers and sixteen-year-olds in jeeps. I have picked scabs and boogers, watered orchids, dissected frog organs, written on chalkboards and smart boards and legal pads. I have raised to my lips the greasy remains of chicken carcasses, played the bandoneon, a blue guitar, a xylophone. I have changed the oil in my Mitsubishi and shifted gears, and pulled on boxing gloves and pounded a Taekwondo bag. I have picked up beer bottles from dirt roads and tissues wet with rain or body fluid. I have pulled glass shards from my skin, braided friendship bracelets, taken communion, drawn a monkey, drawn a goat, drawn a thousand four-leaf infinity symbol clovers. I have lifted my hand to cover my nose at the smell of polluted U.S. rivers. I have written my congresswoman. I have written Wendell Berry, Will Oldham, Emily Dickinson, made books out of match boxes and envelopes and other books scavenged from the free bin.

    But I haven't charcoaled a self-portrait, pulled the cord on a parachute, plucked a dandelion for someone else's grandmother. I have never used my tuning forks to clear the energy field around my students, thumbed a ride, clasped my palms together in awe at Machu Picchu. I have not caned a chair, wet my finger to turn the page of a book I have written, unless you count chapbooks and manuscripts.

    In fact, the more I try to imagine gestures that still await me, the more I appreciate the ones I forget are etched into these knuckles. Perhaps that is what Susan understands with her "Hands" series--the body has a memory all its own that speaks volumes.
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