Friday, January 23, 2009

The Power of Hands, January 23, 2009

Prompt: Write about work your hands do and check out this poem, On the Assembly Line.


Anonymous said...

Starbucks Shake

I never paid much attention to my hands until they wouldn’t stop shaking. Side effect, a minor one by relative terms, but pouring hot drinks with trembling hands in front of hurried customers, that should be more than a minimum wage gig. I took the part-time Starbucks job for medical insurance, to pay for the pills that keep my body from quaking. Partial seizure disorder according to Dr. Hussein at Duke. “Shaky hands, we can live with,” he tells me in his office. We?

“Are you okay, hon?” one of the regulars asks.

“Fine, fine,” I say, setting down his macchiato, praying no spill.

“There’s no need to be nervous, you know. You’re doing fine.” He thinks because I’m the newest barista I’m anxious about making coffee. But really, I’m anxious about my hands. I keep them in my apron pockets between customers. My boss, a giant Swedish-looking woman from Minnesota or North Dakota or some squarish state, says it’s unprofessional.

“Get your hands out of your pockets, girl,” she yells from the backroom.

“But they’re cold.” It’s true. The coffee is hot but the shop is freezing. My hands are always cold, even in gloves, in summer, inside the pockets of my Starbucks apron.

I never paid much attention to my hands until they wouldn’t stop shaking. Then I started noticing things. My knuckles aren’t as knobby as I once thought, my fingers pretty slim – maybe I am my mother’s daughter. My veins stand up like Dad’s, and so, the blood-drawing nurses love me, never miss. I have friends who get poked and poked, their blue veins burrowing like hedgehogs in snow. Nurses have no choice but to inch up their arm, wrist to elbow to shoulder. Until they get a stick.

My shaky hands have limited my career options. I was the kid who always won the game Operation, removing a spleen or kidney without setting off the red nose alarm. When I was seven, I was going to be a surgeon. But then I switched to architect to engineer to ice cream taster (though I never liked anything chocolate). Surgeon’s out of the question now.

Even barista is difficult. All these customers and their questions. I finally figured out what to say, how to answer. Whenever a customer stares or points or asks what’s wrong, I say with a stone-straight face, “It’s the drugs.” Inevitably, their eyes wander up my arms, looking for track marks. But I’m not self-conscious about my forearms. They check too for diluted pupils. But my blue eyes are not a source of worry. So long as these strangers aren’t lingering on my shaky hands, then I can whip up their ‘Venti Extra Hot 2 Pump Nonfat White Mocha’ in peace. Offer an extra sleeve, smile and say, “I wouldn’t want you to burn your hands.”

Carol Henderson said...

This piece reminds me of a friend whose hands shake terribly--from the cocktail of antidepressants he takes daily. Well, he is supposed to take them daily. But the tremor is so bad that people look away when he hands back menus or passes a piece of paper.
"I look like I have Parkinson's" he tells me, "and I don't."

Without consulting his psychiatrist he started taking his pills "every other day," he told me. "The tremor is better and I"m fine."

But he wasn't fine. I noticed a flatness in his voice; he snapped at his wife and his kids wondered when he was going to turn his wrath on them--go after them for the way they were or weren't leading their lives.

I called one day and said, "You don't sound right."

He said, "I'M FINE." I said, "No, you aren't."

"What's worse," I said, "a tremor or becoming a terror to those who love you?"


"Are you there?" I asked.



"I'll think about it."

His wife is afraid to ask but she thinks he's shaking more again. And that's a good thing.

Michele said...


Hands across the water…the water…Obama says instead of the fist, open a hand to our neighbors, our adversaries.
Hands are something I take for granted – maybe that’s not such a good idea. I have small hands and now they are getting wrinkled and they have age spots from the sun. My fingers also have some joints that swellfrom arthritis and like my mother, I hold them to my waist and don’t always want to display them. More often I forget about that. But my dexterity isn’t what I remember – it’s harder to button those tiny buttons on Peter’s oxford shirts and I have dropped a goodly number of glasses and dishes in the kitchen in the last five years or so.

All of those complaints said, I love to use my hands to make things РI love cooking, the blending and measuring and saut̩ing. And I love to make a meatloaf and feel the ingredients in my bare, washed hands.

Before I get out of bed in the morning I often just stretch my palms toward the ceiling and open and close the fingers getting them ready to make my coffee and to set out our breakfast. Sometimes I make sandwiches. I love the feel of the spatula spreading peanut butter or mayonnaise – Light mayonnaise – and placing bits of lettuce just so, and then neatly adding meat or cheese or hummus.

Years ago I edited slides, laying them all out on a light table and then taking the loop and checking for the best one of the lot. Rearranging them was like a great game of cards. I watched my fingers move them around to make just the right sequence. And I loved holding strips of film up to the light – there was something very satisfying, directorial, about holding images in my hand.

I don’t wear gloves when I wash dishes – and I still wash dishes from time to time. My friend Sarah always does and I marvel at the care that she takes. When I see her next I will have to look closely at her hands. I know her fingers are longer than mine—she plays the piano and the cello.

I like to sew and to knit too, though I don’t have enough time now because I also love to use the keyboard to write little essays just like this one.

Isabel said...

She gripped the wheel as her foot laid down heavy on the accelerator. Sand splattered as she neared the end of the parking lot, and she barely braked for the oncoming traffic. Then more grit and pebbles spewed and sprayed as she pressed hard on the accelerator. The speeding ticket felt bulky in her back jeans pocket.

Her hand shoved the empty Gatoraid and water bottles to the floor of the passenger seat, in hopes of uncovering her CD folder. Not there. She had thrown her stuff into the car when it was still dark. He never woke up.

Her fingers tapped the cold wheel, as other early Sunday morning cars were whipped into the distance behind her flying car. She could still feel the cold leather on the back of her hand from when she had smacked him, and the zipper had left a scrape from the force of her arm. The whole thing had really surprised her, and a slight smile formed on her face as this thought passed through her mind. How she had acted, how strong she felt, how confident, where had it come from?

She didn’t know where she was going. She had hit him, and pushed him with the heels of both hands, with her elbows back, her neck cocked, her teeth clenched. The baby had been quiet, deeply quiet, with a frightened and heightened awareness from the loud voices. She cried, crouched on the floor of the bathroom, for a long time. Then she got up and grabbed her things. Her hands scouring surfaces and sweeping clothes, shoes, belongings with a furry, into her pack. Her earrings were there on her last check through the rooms, in the bathroom, pushed back next to the wall, crumpled together looking sad and forgotten. Just seeing them there struck such a note of sadness in Para, that she didn’t grab them because she liked them, or even wanted them, but because they reminded her of herself, something pretty pushed aside, and the beauty leaching out from the ill-use. She felt sorry for them, and put them in her ears, fingers shaking, and having a hard time hitting the holes.

I have to get my baby, she thought, and the words, my baby, my baby, my baby echoed and bounced off the walls of her brain like a basketball, as she moved with robotic precision. Her hands held her baby. Her hands could know she had this baby, that it was her baby, even if her mind and her youth and her plans, and her identity didn’t yet fully accept the reality.

Driving now, her fingers tapped the wheel, the loud radio drowning out the tears that wouldn’t yet flow. Fires of hatred were burning behind her pupils, drying the tears before they could even begin forming. She rested her fingers in the groves in the back of the steering wheel. This place for her fingers, was a perfect fit, smooth and comfortable. Her fingers were the only part of her that had a place they belonged. Anonymous signs came and went without her reading one of them, and brown trees blurred in her periphery.

She wouldn’t cry, not yet.

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