The wizardry of words
What Work Is

The magic you can hold in your hands....

Worker's Hands by Edward Weston

“To me, all creativity is magic. Ideas start out in the empty void of your head - and they end up as a material thing, like a book you can hold in your hand. That is the magical process. It's an alchemical thing. Yes, we do get the gold out of it but that's not the most important thing. It's the work itself.” ― Alan Moore

“It's not my brain that's writing the book, it's these hands of mine.” ― Madeleine L'Engle

Alfred Steiglitz

When I fall asleep
my hands leave me.

They pick up pens
and draw creatures
with five feathers
on each wing.

- Siv Cedering (from "Hands")

Paul Strand

With these hands I have held
a bird with a broken wing.
With these hands I have touched
my children in the sun.
With these hands I have made
a house of living earth.
With these hands I have worked
a field of growing corn.
With these hands I have learned to kill
As much as I have learned to live.
These hands are the tools of my spirit.
These hands are the warriors of my anger.
These hands are the limitations of my self.
These hands grow old and feel
unfamiliar walls
As they reach out to find
the world I used to know.

- Nancy Wood (from Many Winters: Prose and Poetry of the Pueblos)

Hand and PawImages above, photographs of hands by three great American photographers: "Worker's Hands" by Edward Weston (1886-1958), "Georgia O'Keefe: Hands and Skull" by Alfred Steiglitz (184-1946), "Crofter's Hands" by Paul Strand (1980-1976). Also, me and Tilly: "Hand and Paw."


These quotes are wonderful, not only that you started with a photo by one of my dad's favourite photographers. A perfect way to start the day. I would like to share this with you

That's a lovely post, Charlotte -- thank you so much for the link.

Do you know the Siv Cedering poem in this post? (The link on her name goes to the full poem, which is gorgeous.) The four next lines are:

The creatures multiply.
They say: "We are large
like your father's

Another favorite of mine is Jane Hirshfield's luminous poem, "A Hand":

Such powerful words and images!

*Two* lovely posts this morning. Thank you, Terri and Charlotte. May I offer another beautiful hand poem? "Your Hands" by Pablo Neruda. This is serendipitous because I've been rereading Neruda this month, attempting to memorise some of my favourites. I like telling poems to myself as I work, and sometimes to the dogs, sheep, and chickens too. I've almost convinced myself they like it as well.

That is lovely. I don't have much of a working knowledge of poetry; you have opened up a bit of a treasure trove for me.

Am I being horribly prosaic amongst all this poetic beauty when I remind all the artists in our group just how technically difficult it is to paint/draw hands? Entire books have been written about the correct approach to this most taxing part of the anatomy. And who among us hasn't produced something that looks like a dead octopus at the end of a subject's arms at some point?

Perhaps it's something to do with the expressiveness of hands; their spirit/emotion has to be captured in just the same way as those of a face. Hands show who and what we are; they can reveal what job we do,some would claim they reveal our personality, and those with the Gift can read our past and futures in them.
If we want to disguise ourselves, perhaps we should wear gloves rather than a mask.

Have you read Holly Black's wonderful Curse Workers series (The White Cat, etc.) in which everyone wears gloves for fear of being magicked via touch?

I second the Curse Workers recommendation.

I'm enchanted by these photos including the charming one at the bottom, and can't help but savour a post-and-response that has us ranging from Alan Moore to Pablo Neruda.

not a series I know, but I'll certainly be looking it up.

Not all of us ladies have gorgeous hands full of transparencies. And the Hirshfield is a favorite of mine.

Looking at My Hands

“A hand turned upward holds only a single, transparent question.”
--Jane Hirshfield, “A Hand”

These peasant hands, shovel size, cracked knuckles,
holds no transparencies. The age between
creases, packed thick as gardener’s dirt,
would tell you I work the fields or send shuttles
across large looms. It says I shuck corn, bait lines,
hack tree limbs, knot ropes. It says I force
myself into a cow haul out a calf, slick
with mucus and blood.
They lie. I do no hard work
but tap endlessly with four fingers on a keyboard
like some erratic god, bringing a semblance of life
into my increasingly populated world.

©2013 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

Lovely tribute to a wonderful father, Charlotte.

Beautiful hand poems that are making me tear up, especially the one from Nancy Wood. The crofter's hands, so clear and evocative and DEFINITE. And thank you for introducing me to Siv Cedering, too.

I dont' know any poems about hands but Bill Withers wrote a beautiful song about his grandmother's hands:

I love the photo with Tilly's "hand".

When we were little, we had two cats. Milo had black pads on his paws, and Molly had pink ones on hers. We thought this was how boy and girl cats were.

I don't remember who said this, but this was my mantra when I was studying bellydance: "The whole universe is contained in the hands of a dancer." I've never appreciated hands more than when studying dance.

What a lovely song. Thank you for sharing it.

You are welcome, Charlotte!

Oh, lovely. I also studied this dance, and the fluid, articulated hand movements are quite beautifully expressive. I suppose that applies to all dance forms, except for maybe Irish step dancing. :)

Thanks for my dose of goosebumps for the day. :-) Fantastic quotes. As always.

I second that, Lauretta.

I love this. I have peasant hands too, small stubby ones, meant for work.

Marvelous song!

This is so intricate and beguiling. I read along with all the photos and then at the end, with Tilly and
hand, I saw the photographs tell a story and the words are entwined with this. Amazing. This is the
only site that brings tears to my eyes, a mix of joy, compassion and awe.

Good point, Stuart... I certainly have made "dead octopu"s hands once or twice in my life!

Me, too. And it was one of my favorite features of my mother. She was very elegant, but had ample, strong hands. She thought them ugly, I thought them capable. I look often at people's hands when I first meet them, tells me something.


And I too studied belly dance. Long ago I was in a miracle& mystery troupe, the Greengrocers of Norwich at the Renaissance Faire and watched the belly dancers. Every
time I heard the drums and began to watch I was transported to the Arabian Nights. So
I just had to learn the dance. I am no longer agile as a cat nor can I do the cymbals
their due but I think there is a belly dancer in all of us women.

And here! There is a painting on an old wardrobe door leaning up in my hallway as I speak, that has never quite got finished because the fingers look like sausages!

I have always liked my hands, not because they were pretty, but for what they could do, for what they could create. I inherited them from my mother and grandmother, both women with exceptional skills at creating things with their hands. My hands are very small though, and I do find this a challenge now that I'm playing guitar! My brother has large hands with exceptionally long fingers and also plays guitar (very well), just this afternoon we were comparing our playing styles and the various advantages and disadvantages of our respective hand sizes!

My husband has very large hands. One of my all-time favourite photos is of him bathing our youngest daughter when she was just a few weeks old. Such immense, strong hands, holding so very gently our tiny little girl.

I agree, hands are so incredibly revealing about who we are, they can be so beautiful in the way they express.

very inspiring word and images, thanks!

Sergio from Italy

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