Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE TRANSIENCE OF HANDS, by KAREN SWENSON

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE TRANSIENCE OF HANDS, by                     Poet's Biography
First Line: A swirl of dead skin
Last Line: On a schoolroom counter.
Subject(s): Hands; Memory; Men; Touch (sense)

A swirl of dead skin,
twisting against itself
on a schoolroom counter.
What was living has left a mosaic,
a sightless overlapping of lenses.
What lies here is only a memory of movement.

My father's hands
that never stroked me,
only paper
which grew buildings for him -
the supporting arm of a buttress,
embraces of arches -
arthritic now,
wind round each other
like the barber stripes on a Venetian pillar.
There was a boy, in the seventh grade,
whose hands, although they never touched me,
I remember,
as well as the unrequited teenage tears
I wept because he loved the blond
in the blue angora sweater.

I passed from those untouchables
to a husband, a spill
of lovers' fingers,
so that if that harvest of hands were
garden tomatoes
put up in Mason jars,
I'd have sufficient to keep me
through the remaining winters of my life.

But, as hands cannot be canned,
my shelves,
if they hold anything at all,
are piled with sloughed touches
fragile as empty gloves
carrying a slender perfume
of the fingers they once enclosed.
What felt
has moved on to other feelings,
as my hands have too.
Even these hands, so dearly here tonight,
are likely to leave behind
only a wanderlust of touch
as though life were a gas explosion in a tunnel
through which we feel our way,
getting our bearings by each other's bodies.

Sometimes in the night I see us all -
the white gloves of a magician,
a deftness agile in the spotlight,
pulling from air and sleeves
silk scarves, gems, clinquant baubles
until the spot fails;
the gloves fall to the stage with other props,

deciduous as the snakeskin
wound round itself
on a schoolroom counter.

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