Today marks the one year anniversary from last year's tsunami, one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory. With the hurricanes hitting here at home this year, I cannot help but to wonder if the water we've always known to cover most of the Earth is suddenly deciding to reclaim the land. I'm also sorry how quickly the human mind re-sets itself after a tragedy like this...unless there's a personal connection to a lost loved one, it slips away under the rubble of all of the horrible things we cannot bear to think about and still keep going every day. But, I want to remember this--I want this perspective. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives and it makes me want to honor my own. It makes me stop...like I did when I read this poem today in the Best New Poets 2005 Anthology edited by George Garrett. Yes, this resonates because of the day--the weight of water on my mind. But the poet, Damon McLaughlin, hit on something so deep with this, my own bones ache.
by Damon McLaughlin
If I were taking lives, I would take hands
first, parting the bones of the wrist with one
good snap, and they'd pop off
like spent hibiscus buds, the fingers
and the palms collapsed like paper cups
no mouth has touched in years. I would
palm each palm, opening the hand
little finger first, slowly,
as though talking down a fist.
And then I'd pry the thumb,
that fleshy horse, to stroke its velvet nose
so soft, it's silk, it's air, a ghost touched and rising
from the sheet that binds it to the world
the way these lines traverse the hand
mapping heart and love and life and how
we will hold on to such promises
though they spin like leaves all around us
and dodge the grips of scientists and priests
who held them in their bibles,
and the blues man's fingertips, cuticles
picked at by guitar strings, calluses hard
as the mechanic's or the farmer's
whose hands swell with years of milking,
of laying the fence that binds him to the land
and one another, earth, sea, and sky.
I would hold up these hands and pray for rain.
I would hold them up like bowls and fonts,
like reservoirs the clouds have filled
for us to swim in, to lose, to find ourselves.
I would offer them like flowers for the living
and for the dead, for the handful of earth between.
This unbelievable poem was an open competition winner for the "Emerging Poets" series. It also won this year's Briar Cliff Review Annual Poetry Contest.
He hasn't published a full-length collection as of yet, but I look forward to one whenever it comes. There were "ceremonies" all over southern Asia to mark this day and the loss. Sitting here, a stranger half a world away, I offer my own by giving my thoughts--however humble they may be...and by saying how thankful I am today for the gift of such steady ground beneath my fragile human footsteps.