Tuesday, March 7, 2017

hands know


How much do hands know any more?

It used to be I’d watch my grandfather turn over a stack of twenties in his fingers at the betting window. I’d watch my grandmother’s fingers gracefully twirl a swift cigarette from out of the package. All eyes turned toward the track or the television in some corner, they’d forget their handling and fondling to go shout a number. Horses begin at one part of the oval, end at another, first number at the finish line is noted.

A pack of horses densifies and then stretches in a line.

Lines on lines, rows on rows, forming and re-forming.

Another cigarette is rolled from the pack, is lit, and bobs on my grandmother’s lips when she talks.

It rolls like the whorls in a baby’s hair. Like the whorls in an enthusiastically running tide.

Like seashells, snails, Klimt paintings.

Trees of life.

Horses hurling towards the finish line.

Like the Fates, twisting the threads of life between their gnarled crone fingers, between their spindly joints, making whorls of tangled torments from smooth lines.

Horses leave the gate frantically,

My grandmother’s fingers are grey, and her skin is smooth like thin paper. Her irises are tiny black lights. She is ash all around, head always wrapped in a fog of smoke. A cigarette is always dangling, resting, smoking and throwing up thin ivy-like shoots into the air before they disappear. Cigarette smoke, if I look closely, is only foggy when it is forcefully expelled from a mouth, chaos. Most of the time it forms thin lines in the air, curves gracefully in visible lines. These lines throw dirt on walls, in conversations. They become violent if provoked by a philandering, gambling husband, forming and re-forming, light up, breathe in unseen, breathe out chaos, stub out, repeat.

It takes patience to untangle chaos, to hold one’s breath while the fingers work beneath.

It takes intention to choose which horse to bet on during any given race, the names blur and run together after a few drinks. Another cigarette, another bourbon, heavy breath and empty pockets. Plastic cups empty and gather at a tiny table. Racing forms with frantic pencil circles and calculations. She always said she only held the smoke in her mouth and did not inhale it and would not take it in all the way. He smacked his “Form” on his hand in an excited “come on”.

Jockeys goad with their whips.

Like sweeping the floor.

Like fists curled deliberately, clutching a retaliation for dear life.

Poking anthills, firing up ants, rigid, thick stick arguments.

The floors are dirty and covered with stepped-on losing tickets. Loser’s confetti pieces, folded and torn, then scattered and tamped down. Tiny cigarettes in a pack. Pinch, pull out, light, drag, stub out. My grandmother mutes herself with cigarettes, with calculated circles of resignation. The horses are in the gate, dancing on their haunches, taut and ready. Participatory repression, spring and release.

Watch the cigarettes leave the pack. So many were smoked.

People stand in long lines waiting for their turn to bet. These lines are slow and ponderous. Sticky hands reach into pockets to pull out money, count and count again, which number should you pick. Agonizing confusion over the inability to predict something with certainty, yet with all the information written on the Racing Form one has a hunch. A hunch, a clue, an illusion, you like the name, the horse looks good, the jock looks good, just pick. Roll one more cig from the pack. Dirt circles shoes and money, leaves residue like the angst of drunkards.

Wring out a winner, twist the numbers in your head.

Horse races were always accompanied by other rituals: drinking too much, followed by my drunken grandfather losing his money. The ritual retelling by my grandmother of how my grandfather gave his money to whores, fell out of drunken windows, her floors at home left dirty, her mouth circled with smoke, his head in an unremorseful fog. She was yearly sheared of her dignity and place, a domestic. These rituals were circular, relational whorls, tidepooling and receding, one smoke after another.

His mouth was always ready with a smooth line and in his hands a wad of twenties. The years gathered on his bobbing lies, growing fatter and fatter on his lower lip, slow creeping ivy-tendrils of thin smoke. My grandfather kept lying words on thin threads, just in case he’d have to tie something together, make something other than a mess or pretend he could do something better than twist out a crying woman.

Sometimes, something has substance on its own. A winning horse, the ticket with the correct number, the drunken losses that are felt and ignored. A jockey who is carefully measured in stature and lightness. A number that is a wild card win. An obsequious smoke. Other things must be plied together to create substance, to stick together, to later tangle. Horses whirling tightly together, circling. Smiles on drunk faces. Folding and stacking losing tickets in halves as you tear each half, smaller and smaller, snuffed out. A man, and women. These, too, are ritually discarded with the cigarette stubs.

Spun cigarettes, horse races, grandparents, circling, crying.

Ritual twisting.

Losing tickets.

Hands know.

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