palm of the hand


circling and circling, yet not quite
spiraling out of control
but wasn’t that
the point? the idea
to relinquish
control? the illusion
that choosing is done
with my mind
it is
by doing

I didn’t realize everyone could hear the sound of the heavy vault door slamming inside my mind. But of course, they can. They hear the echo of such solid finality, feel it reverberating through the air around me as I walk by, the shockwaves still registering underfoot, rolling through the Earth’s crust with exactly the rhythm of the waves of a sea change. The rhythm of my footsteps walking away.

I have decided. To go.

I didn’t intend to, if I’m honest. I thought I could stick around longer this time, here in this cushy job, good pay, free benefits. My cheap, so cheap New Mexico apartment, the warm adobe row of small weathered doors circled around a green courtyard, inside full of windows and charm. I thought I could sink in, be lazy for a while, lie low in the Land of Mañana.

But the Wind through the pine tree at the corner of my front porch calls to me, whispers my true name; it traveled all this way, from the mountains of Colorado, along the Camino in Spain, to find me here. It tells me its brother, El Derecho, just tore straight across the cornfields of my childhood at 100 mph, screaming like a freight train, like a tornado unwound, a line drive through center field, obliterating anything that stood in his way.

The old trees are uprooted, broken, says the Wind. Their solid persistence to stay in their place — that was their undoing. You slammed the heavy door in your mind; and that Butterfly Effect unleashed him, the wild wind, to free you. You look for your straight arrows to guide you:
El Derecho is pointing the way.

The Sun set, rosy clouds in a lavender sky, and took the Wind on along as a companion, leaving me leaning against the corner of my porch, looking west in the dimming light.

I have been trying so hard to persist here. Why?

All these years later, I still struggle to let go of the steady paycheck in order to grab hold of my adventurous life.

Two symbols have risen before me of late, each more than once, insistent, using others to remind me when I’ve tried to ignore them. The symbols glow within the palms of each of my hands – in one, a spiral; in the other, an eye.

A hand with a spiral in the palm is the Shaman’s Hand, or Healer’s Hand. Native Americans in the desert Southwest, in particular the Hopi, have a long relationship to this symbol. It is a sign of spiritual connection, healing creativity, and protection.

A hand with an eye in the palm is the Hamsa, or Hand of God. In Islam, it is also called the Hand of Fatima, the devoted daughter of the prophet Mohammed, and in Judaism, the Hand of Miriam, the sister who placed baby Moses into the Nile River to save him. Across the Middle East, this symbol guards us and our loved ones from the “evil eye” – so it, too, is a sign of protection.

So much protection surrounding one so insulated by ease and comfort. I’m growing fat and soft, uncomfortable in my own overabundant skin, impatient and uneasy in the midst of my monotonous plenty. To what end? To what end do I continue this job, this lifestyle, except to the end of me?

It’s not that the agency where I work has changed. Nothing has changed. A pandemic has torn across the world like El Derecho, direct and destructive, and still, nothing has changed. I believed I was hired specifically to bring vision and change, but that was lip service, a backhanded request to clean up the indulgent disaster of their own making. What remained unspoken was the desire to then go back to the way things have always been. The Land of Ayer. Yesterday.

This new arrow in the wind reminds me: once you have left, there is no going back. Maybe I didn’t explain that clearly enough to them. Or to myself.

This evening, I found a short essay from 2015 published in Ploughshares about the Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968. Incredibly, three months before his death in 1972, he reworked his prize-winning novel into a small 11-page story. Essayist Lara Palmquist wrote in “Pursuing Essence Through Ambiguity”:

“…[W]hile the story pulls scenes almost intact from the novel, it does not offer a condensed retelling. Rather in his distinctly spare yet affecting style, Kawabata’s miniaturization intensifies the isolated images, producing an independent take on his regarded masterpiece. In excavating new facets of his novel, Kawabata was also returning to the form he felt encapsulated his art: a series of short works he eloquently described as ‘palm-of-the-hand stories.’”

“Palm-of-the-hand stories.” I’ve often referred to my best writings as small vignettes, photographs. Or sometimes, song lyrics. Palmquist went on to explain,

This is the uncanny magic of Kawabata’s form: a deceptively small structure with limitless…capacity. It is precisely their ambiguity that invests the palm-of-the-hand stories with deeper meaning, their irresolution that exquisitely reflects the near-infinite, interior epics of life.

Half my lifetime ago, I sat in a studio apartment among my most beloved poets, all of us young and poor, as we each wrote from a shared prompt, creating a project together. My heart was full that afternoon, even as it felt spacious and free:

I found a rock I picked it up I put it in my pocket for a day
a piece of solid life without a breath it once grew corn it once was clay
and on its jagged edge I felt my thumb I learned the texture of my skin
and when I smelled the dust of it I tasted it and flew the sky within

and oh, I play hopscotch on the ordered plans of man
I sweetly sing visions in this unpromised land
the answers to the mysteries are etched on our hands
I’m laughing walking on the shifting sands

and who can know the weight of snow
unless he walks outside his door
and feels the weight of white
and feels the weight of light

I am a woman day I am a (k)night in shining blood I will give birth
to visionaries souls without a mark and madmen restless on the earth
and all your laws and all your jails will not prevail against the human curse
the misery of clarity may drive a man to tell the truth or worse

and oh, I play hopscotch on the ordered plans of man
I sweetly sing visions in this unpromised land
the answers to the mysteries are etched on our hands
I’m laughing walking on the shifting sands

“Where did that come from?!” Ted had asked me.

I looked at his amazed face, then back at the notepad in my hands, and shrugged. “From writing about…’white’…the prompt? right?”

The other poets praised parts and commented and then discussed the larger project. Ted leaned back on the futon and said quietly, “Sing it again.”

Some Muslims believe there exists an hour within the day on Friday when God answers all prayers. It is called the Hour of Fatima – the one hour before sundown. When the wind whispers through the pine trees, and calls you by your true name as it searches for you, high and low, bringing you a message you need to hear. Like voices from the next room in the albergue in Spain, hushing, “Shhh – Barbara is singing.” Asking me if I would be staying with them the next night, and singing them to sleep.

It’s not about pursuing songwriting as my next career move. I don’t know what my next career move is. I just know I need to listen to these voices, including my own. Kawabata calls to me on the wind, leaning back and saying quietly,

“Put your soul in the palm of my hand for me to look at, like a crystal jewel. I’ll sketch it in words.”

My sentiments toward the world, exactly. Who can know the weight, the value, of anything we encounter or hold, unless we step outside our old worlds, and into ourselves.

Shhh – the wind is singing. I have decided to follow it, across the shifting sands.



sibling rivalry

I am Wednesday, full of woe. My brother Sunday’s all bonny and blithe, good and gay. He calls me “Emo;” I call him “Pollyanna.” I used to be Woden’s Day, honoring Odin, the Norse god seeking wisdom. Then Judas decides to betray Jesus on a Wednesday. Now my claim to fame is hump day and coupon flyers in your mailbox. Sunday, smugly home from church, eats his chicken dinner and watches college football.

Sure, crucifixion, resurrection. I mean, my namesake lost an eye, threw himself on his spear, and hung on the Tree of Life for nine days and nine nights, all to gain knowledge and understanding. He cured the sick, calmed storms, just like Jesus, I’d like to point out. Jesus was god, Odin was god. The One-Eyed All-Father, an impressive title. Jesus has a kingdom; Odin has a kingdom hall, too – ever heard of a little place called Valhalla?

Angels or Valkyries, the faithful return, whether saints or warriors. So what is the deal? Why does Sunday get EVERYTHING and I can’t catch a break? Home-cooked fried chicken every week versus $2 Whopper Wednesdays. Come on.

Woe. Oy vey. Which in fact is part of the problem here – all these “woe” words are natural exclamations of lament by humans around the world: Old English wǣ; Middle English wo, wei, wa; Dutch wee, German weh, Danish ve, Yiddish vey. Bosnian jao, said, “yow.” Portugese ai, said, “aye,” as in aye-yi-yi.

Wednesday, Kuan Yin, Avalokiteshvara. I’m tired of being “She Who Hears the Cries of the World.” I feel like I need to update my image, rebrand, quit reliving the glory days of Odin’s quest for wisdom. The serpent Jormungandr is shaking the world now; Yggdrasil is groaning heavily in the uproar. We seem to be approaching a burning, drowning, come-to-Jesus moment for the Earth.

I’m not going to bring it up, though. I don’t want to give Sunday the satisfaction.

Think I’ll go with the tagline “fee, fi, fo, fum.” That’s Shakespeare, from King Lear. True, it was said by a double-crossed royal prince framed for murdering his father the king now hiding out pretending to be a village madman. But that’s way different than “woe,” right?

Fee, fi, fo, fum. Giant’s Day. Shorten it to Ginday. Card games, chilled drinks, a PROFESSIONAL football team. The living is easy, here at the end of the world.

So much cooler than Sunday.