Philip Pardi was a runner up in 2003 Marlboro Review's Prize in Poetry for his Poem "Two Hands " selected by Michael Ryan

Two Hands


We don't, in truth, prepare
adequately, competently

for this. The letter
that arrives or, eventually,

the doorbell unfingered
still. The word un–
unfurled. We learn

from what we fear to run,
but this what nothing
taught us the way

away from – runs with us.
With, a word we once loved.
The jacket we first slip

out of, then fold before the railing,
the finches building, even
as the island is sinking,

their nests.
We each must make our peace
with what is evident

tho mistakes are made
fearing you've misplaced
God, you decide you might

have been misplaced, might
be about to be scooped
into arms, blue and up.


I know, if there's meaning,
it isn't here, in what
my hands — so cold

in the a.m. — can grasp,
tho I know, too, you can't
keep a thing from meaning,

having tried, having seen
others try, having held
and in the end withheld

what I thought
was there.
For their sake, then, I drink

warm tea, that
they have a warmth
to which to cling. What

I found, I found unhidden,
if we can speak
of finding what's in plain view

the fly's epistemology
of circle, touch and taste,
and ours, however impious, of

stumbling onto, or
running into, or
sitting accidentally upon, or

reaching for it, before
knowing what — now
airborne — was tossed.


The end, I said, was near, tho still
we climbed toward it, unsure
how we came to be

so far below — each of us,
a castle built of time, assembling,
between first and last, our own

history of touch. Who will you be
when your heart and fists
disagree, everything warming

everything, certain your Spanish
has failed you, asking to have it
explained again, the story

of the woman who, before
the war was even over, married
the sergeant who'd tortured her. Climbing

the way is lined with those
who turned aside, which
is a thing joy does to you,

but this is different, you want
to believe, this is how
what wants you, what you,

in fact, say you want, may not
in the end come clean. Each touch
a blessing, tho you would not

be blessed by anything
that would distinguish blessed
from unblessed.


Stopping now, mid-step,
the idea upon him
that this is no time not to be

praying, he steps aside, assumes
the posture of the closed-eyed,
prays, tho

to look at him, fingers pressed
to nose-bridge, you'd think first
of a headache, second

of grief, and third of the way
we strain to recall
even the name, sometimes,

of a loved one — and such is his luck
that, from nearby,
he hears a reply, a bell

ding-dinged slightly, as if
just for him, as if
there weren't, just then,

two men cleaning the belfry,
a mop-handle falling
and bouncing against the rim

as the workers, out of sight
briefly in their cold upper reach, share
a cigarette, having

mopped themselves up the stairs
and into a corner, tho neither
admits, later, to a mop falling.


Late in my desire for you
but early
in my thinking about my desire

for you — I'm nothing
if not slow — I watched you watch
the lake

the quiet neck of the heron
the rower
whose oars moved

like wooden spoons
through soup —
you were quenched

the way thirst can be quenched
so quickly
whereas I found a hunger

that would require months
of patient feeding —
when you turned to walk ahead

I held tight
knowing or thinking I knew
that what the hands lose

is for the eyes to find
and what the eyes lose
is for the heart to find

but the heart
when it loses a thing
is left to fend for itself


—Time, Sir, bleeds, and ours
are wounds
that are stopped

for years. For years
we press hard
and it's surprising, this

habit, if that's what
it is, of using two hands
where one will do.

This flowing which is in us
is us —hear
how it rasps, sings,

even, not with
but toward its own kind
of staying: and this, and

this, and this
it whispers, urges.
How we long for a stay.

How we long to free one hand,
only to realize
one is half of what's needed

to pray, and then, working,
gradually, the other free,
we're left

with only the fact
of our hands, with how
it's to them we should pray.


The mirror, which you love
for having remained, since
childhood, cool

to the cheek, which flips you left
to right, can't,
however much it tries,

lift feet
to brow, can know nothing
of ascent

but what it sees
and immediately forgets —
for you, the way up is marked

by the way we move
through it, the hands grasping
what soon the feet will step to, past

grackles twirling like kites
tho without the strings
to untangle afterwards

and the boy cutting each one loose
save his favorite, which he fastens
to a park bench, leaves aloft,
to a park bench, leaves aloft,

into the night, with a wind
that seems to aim for it alone —how
like a tree after emptying

the world then seems —
between risen and fallen
and fallen
what, in place, remains.

Philip Pauli has poems in recent issues of Mid-American Review, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, Nimrod and Painted Bride Quarterly.

Copyright ©2003 Philip Pauli

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