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The Hand by Mary Ruefle

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Today, a letter, which begins this way: You are very good at being human. It’s the apparent survivors who sleepwalk through life without feeling bliss or agony who aren’t.

See, this is me a few hours ago: playing the ukulele in my underwear, trying to ignore the afternoon heat. I’ve flung my shorts somewhere in the room, I’ve filled my coffee mug with Coke and ice, and I’ve piled all my hair on top of my head. I know I have work to do, but I’ve got my feet up the table and it was time for music.

I wonder if this is what P. had in mind. He asks me about my manuscripts, and they’re there, buried under a book I meant to give to a friend.

I remember this from Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey: “I suppose, as a poet, among my fears can be counted the deep-seated uneasiness surrounding the possibility that one day it will be revealed that I consecrated my life to an imbecility.”

P. tells me, I think it’s very possible for you to be happy and loved.

The Hand
Mary Ruefle

The teacher asks a question.
You know the answer, you suspect
you are the only one in the classroom
who knows the answer, because the person
in question is yourself, and on that
you are the greatest living authority,
but you don’t raise your hand.
You raise the top of your desk
and take out an apple.
You look out the window.
You don’t raise your hand and there is
some essential beauty in your fingers,
which aren’t even drumming, but lie
flat and peaceful.
The teacher repeats the question.
Outside the window, on an overhanging branch,
a robin is ruffling its feathers
and spring is in the air.

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This poem appeared in Cold Pluto by Mary Ruefle, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1996. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Mary RuefleFind books by this poet • Or view my library 

Explore poems in pursuit of: the selfsolitudewindows • Or browse the index


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