Poetry: The Back of My Hand | clivejames.com
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The Back of My Hand

I used to know the back of my hand
Like the back of my hand
But things are happening now that I can’t
Quite, in my mind, command
To make sense of themselves.

On the smooth plateau from the root
Of the index finger
To the thumb joint where a light plane
Without the slightest danger
Could once have glided in for a dead-stick landing
There are bumps that would stop a truck.
It’s all so demanding,

This ageing business. It starts with
The simple exaggeration
Of veins making tracks like the river system
Of a whole new nation
Suddenly put in place by the Space Invaders,
The flyers from Atrophon
Who built all this stuff and then died out.
And now they are gone,

And the ruins of whoever saw them off
Are being overtaken
By other ruins: the product,
Unless I’m very much mistaken,
Of a people wedded to chaos
In the first instance,
Who keep what they take and cover it
With a carpet of decrepitude.
I was proud of these hands once.

Now I don’t even care to look.
It would be like sitting in a canvas
Chair at Angkor Wat
To watch the jungle taking back
That elegant structure
While some expert gave me a personal lecture.
Or do I mean Oaxaca? Carlos Fuentes told me
That was the place to see. In his last years
Did the backs of his hands still say “hold me”
To all those women who loved his eyes?

At least I have a voice,
Or I did until I started the new tablets.
But no one has a real choice
We have to take what’s given to us,
Especially in here
While the campfires of the onslaught
Draw nearer every night
To this place that I know by now
Like the back of my hand.
Take a look if you like. You know what this is?
It’s the Promised Land.