The Horrible Hand
for Lawrence Raab
wakes up in a bad mood, hung over, strung out, just
horrible. You’ve heard of hard cases who crawl
out of bed? That’s what The Hand does
then positions its splayed, wrecked, sense
of itself before its deepest possession: a hand
mirror. (The rest of the estate? Leather glove,
gold ring, three pens, a yo-yo, a cheap gun.)
Again the glass reflects a lone, fingered thing
cut off from its other, its mirror image. Now,
off to work it will go, but unlike the small cheery
Seven who shouldered their tools, The Hand
makes no song in its low progress over the floor –
just the scribbling of unbit nails, whisper of knuckle
and flesh. In some other world Splendid Hand
claps the palm of its brother at a Broadway debut,
and Elegant cradles a glass of blown crystal twinkling
with Dom Perignon, but Horrible must earn its week’s
rent climbing the torsos of B-movie actors, straining
towards the throat – forever to navigate the Has-Been
or Never-Been, or the Never-To-Be. The director’s
“Cut!” startles The Hand. (It has no mouth to feed,
but sometimes, under the low, flinching wattage
of a kitchen bulb, it finds itself chopping
a poor man’s one pot meal.) Released from the set
it goes home by public transportation, clinging
all the way to the overhead railing, orphan
on the row of bodied hands. At night it climbs towards
sleep, just beyond reach. It cannot think yet it grasps
the wrongness of everything. Poor Horrible Hand!
It can’t even shoot itself in the head.
Really Mystic River
“To raise awareness of it, the Los Angeles
Conservancy posted signs over bridges
reading ‘Los Angeles River,’ with a
silhouette of a heron. Almost immediately
they began getting calls from people asking
where they could find the river.”
- The Associated Press, Jan. 22, 2007
There’s the Ganges river, Gange Ma, Sacred Mother.
Once it flowed over heaven—then, to soften its fall
down to Earth, Shiva caught it in the net of his hair.
There’s the Nile, longest of all rivers. Men searched
for centuries to find its headwaters, its hidden source.
It raised up a great, golden people—thus spoke
Herodatus: “Egypt was the gift of the Nile.”
The Amazon, the voluminous one—
fed by torrential jungle rain, it feeds the sea
to its fullest. It drives its giant snakes,
monstrous fish, across the beltline of the world.
Then there’s the L.A. River,
the most mysterious watercourse of all. Who has seen it?
Where can we find it? It flashes past our blind spots,
when we’re looking toward the other lane, trying
for an opening we can push our way through.
They say all rivers head toward the sea.
They say no one steps in the same river twice.
But what of the Los Angeles River?
We’ve heard that in the waning of heat waves,
on a night of no moon, one heron, like a white
shadow, moves through its currents, wistful,
as if it were the last of its kind.
We’ve seen its cryptic symbol stamped on signs
on certain wayward bridges at the edge of town,
and always the same strange, troubling words,
Los Angeles River.
The old masters say
What you search for is already before you.
What you desire you already possess.
Is it true?
Does a Zen river run somewhere below us?
We glance past the bridge and see only thin fluid
riding that concrete down there, shaggy with moss.
Who can take us to the river? Can you?
Can you drive us to its bank—can you make it appear?
We’ve done Atlantis and Shangri-la. We’ve done
the Lost City of the Incas on a package tour.
We’ve studied the Kabbalah and the I Ching. But oh,
we want a miracle, un milagro, what the Welch
called Gwyrth. What can’t be sold? Be bought?
Only the terror of the truly strange, its deep, fierce,
running, transformative power. Where, where—please,
por favor, donde es, can you help us, can you
save us, can you lead us to The L.A. River?
SUZANNE LUMMIS' collection Open 24 Hours, won the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize. Poems have appeared in Ploughshares, The Antioch Review, The Hudson Review, Plume and The New Yorker. Her essay “(Never) Out of the Past: Noir and the Poetry of Lynda Hull” appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books.