Palms: Poem by Shawn StJean

It’s been a long while since the inspiration for one of these breathed through me, but here’s a humble offering. I’m open to suggestions for revision.
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By Shawn StJean

Palms

Look at your the back of your left hand.
Take a good, hard scrutiny, with the eye you seldom use.

If you’re 20 years old, you may not spot a flaw.
Or, perhaps a small scar from a childhood wart removed,
Or a ridge from the time you punched a wall to demonstrate your anger.

If you’re 40, the veins may have begun their rise,
the skin may fissure a bit from countless scrubbings in dishwater,
and a finger may pale where a wedding ring once encircled it.
The joints begin to tighten now, and one night, a shooting jolt awakens you.

When you’re 60, a lifetime of work tells tales: my index finger is grooved
Where a die grinder sliced through my glove, nor does the wrist bend all the way.
I’ve lost my thumbnail three or four times, and the knuckles all show the pure white of healing.
I once trapped the whole between a cylinder head and engine block,
And the pain of that mistake returned me the gift of greater patience.

If 80 finds you able, and your eyesight can work around the cataracts,
Your hand may now resemble the hook, the claw, the tool you treated it as.
It may pain you relentlessly, or at odd times go scarily numb.
The fingers no longer function as a family unit, drop things,
Shake when your blood sugar falls, or even when it doesn’t
And you often find it stretched out to take what’s handed you (“damn pills.”)

Now, turn it over.
The palm, at any age, retains the curious perfection of youth.
Unless you’ve lead a particularly hard life,
The callouses will soften with a few weeks off.
Even the two-inch scar I have from when a dog chased me through a swamp
Cutting across my lifeline perpendicularly
Stretches over only half the hand that was so much smaller when I was ten.

Strange, this is the side that works thanklessly
Rakes leaves, catches balls deftly, or plucks up a single grain of rice.
But, when asked, it can also trace the cells in flower petals
and the fingerprint registers stubble on an unshaven cheek.

The back of the hand keeps pace with the rest of the body’s shell,
the sagging stomach, the smile less often seen amid jowls and poor teeth,
the bending backaches. But the palm. . .
The palm indicates the interior life within.
It grows more supple and sure with use and age,
Mature, potent, like a strawberry that tastes of wine as its outer skin wrinkles up.

Now, raise your right hand next to your left.
If you’re lucky, you find inverse twins
That have toiled and wrought together, stitched and sewn,
grappled and steepled in prayer, applauded your daughter,
dug in the earth for worms, pulled an oar, and a bowstring.
These things, and the rest, tinkered your spirit into its better functioning.
Monk-like, I copy a line from another man’s pen:
The motorcycle you’ve worked on is yourself.

Put them, now, to their best uses: Stretch out your hands to whomever you meet, grasp theirs,

Firmly and Man-to-man if that’s your style, or lightly if so, but no matter.
Embrace palms, and when called upon, palm the back of another’s hand in communion.
Massage your friend’s bad shoulder, comb and braid her hair.
And grip tight again, entwine fingers for a long moment, and hold fast, whether your paths lead together or apart.
We’re, none of us, old enough yet to cross the street alone.

The Stand Writers Take

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By Shawn StJean

Many people of artistic temperament are born into the world with a mixture of native ability and an egomania that insulates them from the criticisms that come the way of everyone who dares appear in public.  The suffering that produces actual artists—painters who regularly paint, musicians who dutifully practice and play, and writers who really write—is not their portion, and they often end by retreating into the safe cocoon of their unrealized potential: “I could have if I wanted to. . .”

In American Beauty, middle-aged Kevin Spacey is asked, by a bodybuilding trainer, which muscle groups he’s trying to target.  His reply—“I just want to look good naked”—is only human.  But inasmuch as other artists all must run their gauntlets, it falls to writers to strip themselves naked and stand on the rocks and in the sun, where all gazes, deserving and otherwise, may fall.  They know they’ve done the reps, reformed their diets, put in the sweat and the time, and done their best.  And yet, they also know that the extra pounds from drink or age, the stretch marks, the tattoos and scars of youth, the genetic abnormalities, or simple, forgivable imperfections may still glare out.  And any writer sensitive to the human condition cannot hide behind the mirror forever: the plain fact is, some folks will not only not praise what they see, they’ll be positively repelled by it for their own reasons, and they will spit toxin.

This is why, above all things, writers must trust.  Trust themselves, of course, but trust someone close, another set of eyes—the sharper and more secure the better—belonging to one who has stood on that same shore, shivering in the wind, and yet whose scrutiny of one’s limitations is unaccompanied by the instinct to point and laugh, and gain a cheap personal warmth at the expense of the exposed initiate.  Why must this other person(s) be sought for help? Can’t it be done alone?  No.  Your partner lives, not without those same scars, but with them—and such healing from them as the Fates allow.  She has survived all-too-easy-to-meet rejection, and refused to run from the stage, to wrap herself tightly in the cloak of invisibility of the failure-turned-critic, “mind tainted,” as Hamlet’s ghost warns, and hurl that bile back at those who have met some measure of public acceptance, or might.

Writers who write stand not only looked at, but looking back.  Search, seek, and you will find the others.  There are those on shore admiring, though their voices may not always carry well on the wind, what they behold– however flawed–among the rough cacaphony of the crowd.