Guest poem submitted by Mark Penney:
(Poem #1837) Episode of Hands
The unexpected interest made him flush. Suddenly he seemed to forget the pain,-- Consented,--and held out One finger from the others. The gash was bleeding, and a shaft of sun That glittered in and out among the wheels, Fell lightly, warmly, down into the wound. And as the fingers of the factory owner's son, That knew a grip for books and tennis As well as one for iron and leather,-- As his taut, spare fingers wound the gauze Around the thick bed of the wound, His own hands seemed to him Like wings of butterflies Flickering in the sunlight over summer fields. The knots and notches,--many in the wide Deep hand that lay in his,--seemed beautiful. They were like the marks of wild ponies' play,-- Bunches of new green breaking a hard turf. And factory sounds and factory thoughts Were banished from him by that larger, quieter hand That lay in his with the sun upon it. and as the bandage knot was tightened The two men smiled into each other's eyes.
Where do you start with this beautiful poem? Two men, described only through their hands, meet and briefly connect. By the way the hands are described, you know they're from vastly different worlds, but both pairs of hands are beautiful (differently). As the front-office boy bandages the worker's wounded hand, a link of common humanity is formed -- all wordlessly. Each of them forgets who he is and where he is, and simply becomes a fellow human being. The bandage is, in many ways, what knots them together. That, and the smile, of course. It has a certain feel of parable about it, starting with that epigrammatic and unforgettable title, "Episode of Hands." Of course, you're seeing the whole thing from the white-collar guy's point of view -- Crane really did work in the front office of his father's factory for a time -- so there are certainly questions you can ask: is it politically too naive? is it, instead, elitist? Also, I'd be remiss in not pointing out that this poem is Exhibit A if you want to talk about Crane as a gay poet, since here (for once) that particular subtext doesn't require ridiculous leaps of logic to read in. But you don't need to talk about any of those things -- save that for the classroom. As a reader, this stream of quietly beautiful, creative images is enough. Hands as butterflies. Hands as open fields, complete with horses running in them. Hands as a microcosm of what makes us human. Notice also how the light -- striking the wound, as if washing it, filtering in through the wheels (gears, etc., in the factory) -- is curative, and seems itself to banish the sounds of the factory, to suggest or even create the outdoor images that Crane uses. Also, with the light comes a complete absence of sound. The bond between the two is almost necessarily wordless -- a bandage, a shaft of light, an exchange of smiles. The quiet of the poem is palpable -- it's part of what makes it great. I love Hart Crane like crazy, and this poem is one of the reasons why. Mark.