The Laying on of Hands

He dreamed in colour
of a glacial lake pocketed between two high peaks.
Bending to sip from a feeder rivulet he was surprised
to find his dream also tasted sweet, then the scent
of wet lichen triggered his senses and sound too
of water was a kind of chime
like a brass cow-bell dragged along a path
leading up one of the mountains. His dream-hands
thrilled to cold rock and he began to climb;
she followed slowly, taking a long time.

These words are the mind’s passion,
an offering, a remedy, a wish.
Some say love is not utterance but action.
The hands talk
a different intelligence;
they say
here and here and here.
It takes the language of hands
to interpret the words for a body,
it takes the sibilance of fingers,
to smooth skin, sink into sex,
the hands and the body together
conjuring bright new thoughts
amidst the being’s applause.

As a child Sunday mornings he endured
the prayers of evangelists until cartoons
flickered on the screen of his brain.
In an oval frame in one corner
a woman signed litany for the deaf
with the ballet language of hands.
The word for God was beautiful.
She disappeared when the choir sang.

In a wooden hut built by climbers at the pass
they rested until the day did too,
then escaped their clothes and dipped themselves
into a single sleeping bag.
Despite desire her will forbade such
intimate dialogue and try as she may,
her mouth refused to open to his kisses
or to form words for what her body wanted to say,
as though there were some obstacle in her way.

And yet, as though the object were transparent,
she refused to give up and sought
routes around it. He lapsed into a silent mood
through which he could not reach out.
Then it was she who focused on him
and pried him open like some
box into which mysteries had been placed.
She remembered herself as kind of bird beyond this fear
as if, once, the mind was numb
and yet: as though, once, it was overcome.

Can she remember herself as a baby
holding her hands up before her gaze,
as if her
self is just
beginning to emerge
into the world of difference,
like reaching from underwater to break the surface
surprised at skin drying.
Her tiny fingers touch sunlight,
she grabs at printed daisies on a dress.
Each small fast
curls into her mouth like a good idea,
she would speak each finger
she would whisper thumbs.

Only when they closed their eyes did they begin to see,
exploring the landscapes of their bodies,
learning to read the rises and clefts
of skin as a form of braille.
She saw he was afraid too, so she rose above him
and her fingertips read the ridges of his form like a cry
of pain, or rapture and she saw through him to a place
beyond his dreams: a world not a world where,
if she could leap free of her body and die,
she would be beyond all walking, and would fly.


Four lines are lifted from Rilke’s poem “Going Blind” (trans. Stephen Mitchell).

This poem “The Laying on of Hands” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 156 (Spring 1998): 56-58.

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