Cancerland, Hands-on

Cancerland forces you to see things again for the first time, in the words of that amazing poet and deplorable anti-Semite T S Eliot, whom I seem to be quoting more and more these days.

What I am seeing now again for the first time is this: I have been a manual laborer all my life, because that’s what writing really is, manual labor. Whatever its actual source — head, heart, genitals, spleen — if it does not work its way eventually to the hands, which help it make the otherwise unimaginable leap out of the body into the world, then it simply doesn’t exist.

I said whatever its actual source. But the truth is that more and more I am beginning to be convinced that the hands are its actual source, that the other organs so often thought of as writing’s source are imposters, happy to have credit for something they in fact had almost no part in. This explains why the eyes and the head are so very often shocked to discover what they have written: Gosh, how in hell did we come up with that? Wow, we really are something, huh?

Well of course the eyes and head are surprised. They didn’t know that, didn’t come up with that amazing notion, aren’t as wonderful as they are happy to have you think they are.

It’s the hands are doing it. They are not just agents after all. They are in fact the source: Completely mute in all other circumstances, nothing more than fantastically complex meat. But give them a pen, or access to a keyboard, and they begin to empty themselves of the most remarkable stuff.

All of which has been a run-up to what I (or my hands, I, they, should say) really want to tell you just at the moment. More and more, the manual labor I (they) are engaged in is manual labor other than writing. I am making a screen door at the moment, stretching mesh, tacking wood, holding a folding ruler, and now I understand why all this has the beauty, the gravity, the precision of writing poetry — because it proceeds from the hands, which are the real geniuses of the body, whatever head and heart and balls would have you believe.

For this revelation I am indebted to Cancerland, which (in my parts anyway) is like the Sonoran desert, arid-seeming at first glance but in fact fertile as hell, though with very strange forms of life, prickly pear, saguaro, things that are more undersea coral really than earthly plants. For a reason now entirely clear, these strange growths are meant more to be touched than to be seen, because they are meant for (hell, were made by) the hands. Cancerland is a world of braille, really, puzzling to the eyes but immediately giving up its meaning to the hands, for which (and thank God) writing and messing with screen mesh are the same thing.

Oh, by the way, to return to the subject of the last dispatch, the survival gear I am amassing, I now have on my keychain the world’s smallest working pistol, which fires blanks but also red, green or white flares seventy-five meters into the air. This, clearly, is another idea of my hands, which correctly have sussed out the truth that words are all fine and good but in an emergency nothing beats a wee red fireworks display sent  fish-tailing up into the night sky. And the proud imposter brain cannot manage that, whatever it thinks, and thinks, and thinks. Whereas, for the hands, this is child’s-play, provided they have the means, which my hands now do.

So if you see a little red star somewhere on your segment of horizon, like a small open wound in the night, come and get me, okay? But don’t worry so much about my head and the rest of the dumb crap of which I am made up.

Save my hands.

Published in: on May 30, 2010 at 2:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

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