Vincent Van Gogh, “Two Hands”

I talk with my hands. Always have. When I speak, it’s as if I’m trying to shape the words in the air. Perhaps because it has always been so difficult for me to speak. Soft-voiced and shy, living mostly wordless and watchful. Tremulously searching for how to say anything, anything at all. Gesturing with empty palms toward what I cannot say.

People notice the expressions I make. I know what they mean, though I do not know if they know the meaning. A hundred thoughts cross through me all electric, skittering along my hands, and I can only ever announce a few. The rest of my body struggles to make up for the lack.

It is perhaps an irony that I adore poetry. Or perhaps no irony at all. Poems are words bent to the shape of what cannot be said.

I talk with my hands. Always. And I always wonder why no one notices the scars.

Perhaps because I make sure they don’t. Long sleeves cover the white slashes that cross my arm at violent angles, sometimes betraying their sharp geometry just past a folded cuff. These are scars that I gave myself. Writing some broken, unspeakable word into my flesh with thin and ragged lines. Lines gathering at crossways into no word at all. A clawing silence.

There are other scars. The faded marks of I.V. lines, needles. The rough-hewn edges of surgeries past dashed across my abdomen. A juncture at my wrist, white and jagged, that I’ve had since I was a little baby. Also from an I.V.

And the pale slice of two lines over my neck, following the creases. Marks I also gave myself. I cannot see these unless I look carefully. Somehow the more violent gesture healed more perfectly.

Perhaps people notice, and do not ask. Leave the question unvoiced. And what, anyway, would they ask?

I do not wander around trying to explain, nor unveiling the bloody decisions in a wordless demand for comprehension. I am not sure, in any case, what I would want comprehended. The ragged lines reach into a horizon I myself do not know.

The painful pattern lives dimly on my skin, and – like some shadow cast by a silvery spiderweb – evince a simulacrum of what lives underneath. The sorrow that lives, has lived, underneath. Some unspeakable sorrow. Some unspeakable rage.

I wonder sometimes if people know that my gentleness extends silently from the darkness of this inner violence. If they know, secretly, that I am soft with them because my life has been so hard. That I am soothing for all the struggles.

My very first memory, shadowed and confusing, is of being held down. Of feeling that I had died, somehow, and yet still lived. Lived on into a thousand other deaths.

I know what it feels like to die.

I do not remember the hands that held me down. There are other hands from other times that I remember very well. And sometimes I wonder if I am struggling to shape my hands into some pattern that will help me forget. Or perhaps remember.

Or forgive.

Or perhaps hold on. To the arms that held me once and asked me how I felt. How I really felt. And all I could do was collapse into those arms and scream. Words again lost to me.

Always I gesture. Pressing toward some impossible shape. Holding together the impossible architecture of a word that I literally cannot say. That marks me anyway. Configuring me with a meaning that is neither sorrow nor rage.


My scars are white because I lived.


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