*Image: “Hands No. 5” by Kimberly VanDenBerg, 3′ x 4′ Oil On Canvas
when we go to a garden of rusted bathtubs
my body bends towards you
like a field of sunflowers, my face mantled
in the gauze of your hands—
we know, we know, there are still bodies
who set themselves on fire. beyond this space
heated by the embers of your heart
someone braids a dead woman’s hair.
so your voice is snow in monastery ruins
and I must attempt to believe in beauty.
if I try, everything becomes a memory of the moon.
my body, a spilled bucket of plum blossoms.
and we whisper. we whisper. we whisper.
if they lift my nightgown, you will find
black river-weeds. if we dig, we will find
a buried moon. I must attempt
to believe in beauty. you must attempt.
Doctrine of Hands
the city is a lament of brick, factory towers in pigeon light, shadows of bent women hanging laundry on clay walls. something tells us to look into each other’s eyes. tells: we cannot save the city the same way a mother cannot crawl into her son’s grave at a war funeral in Vietnam. this is how we must attempt to love: by becoming saints. I heat the enamel pot of water for a bath. I wash your hands. I tell you about a woman’s face seen through a tram window: cheeks a gust of twilight. the girl playing an accordion in a night café. the three-legged dog in the open market. the one-handed mountain gorilla in Virunga. you say my voice falls on your skin like hair. and weep, your body growing larger than the room. you take my hands, show me how to forgive them, how to fall in love with them.
in an abandoned hospital where moss sings
you laid down your body—what it meant:
we could speak in a blue language
how the woman pushing an unfilled, decaying
child carriage was not a mother, the mother
was the woman beneath a bridge
whose child lay on a green dress beside
a bloom of plastic bags
and we had no right to name things, no right
to stain them with words.
this was in Tirana, a city cobwebbed
in electricity lines, and we remember the man
asleep in his wheelchair in Krakow’s dusk,
beneath the shadow puppetry of lilac branches.
when you washed my face with snow
I extended my hands, remembering
the horse carriage in a gypsy slum in Hungary,
where the word for hand, kasi, is the same
in my language, käsi.
our hands are the shape of this sky hung like sheets
between countries. when we left the hospital,
the tree trunks glowed like lanterns, the fog
had dressed the oak trees in old dresses.