My Mythopoetic Symbol: Hands Like Birds
(Written January 26, 2016)
Throughout my life I have watched and reflected upon hands and birds. I grew up on a lagoon off the lake in the woods where there were many birds, while hands were things with which the people in my family worked in many ways. Years ago I wrote a poem called “Your Hands Like Birds” which expresses the affinity between these symbols in my life.
By the lagoon and lake, I watched ducks, geese, swans, and white and grey and blue herons, and gulls. I watched them swim along the water and watched them fly in and out from the lake; I watched them swoop down from the air or lunge from rocks or while swimming to dive for fish. I would feed them and watch them descend for bread. It was an uplifting sight and experience years later to take my daughter to the beach and together be encircled by dozens of gulls coming right up to us and our hands.
As a family of Italians, we often talked with our hands. This made me gaze upon hands and reflect upon all the things they do, whether it was my grandfather’s hands putting grapes in the wine press or my father’s hand at the steering wheel taking us out on an adventure or pointing to a woodpecker in a backyard tree. My father worked in construction and often bent and stretched his aching hands; my mother’s hands were often at the adding machine balancing the books, and she, my grandmother, and my aunts made pastas, soups, and cookies “by hand” from “scratch.” My grandparents had grapevines, a vegetable garden, and a small orchard of fruit trees; we picked grapes, apples, pears, cherries, and plums from which my grandfather made wine and my grandmother made jellies and pies. Even watching her or my mother make salad took on the symbolic “good things in life.” These became things I love to do: garden, cook, take road trips; I also take pen in hand to write and I play the piano, like o draw and paint, and when young danced ballet (I still love to dance)—these too are creations using hands.
I felt fortunate to hold this life in the palms of my hands. Our hands can work what is in our hearts. My poem of 1990 follows, its imagery still representing important things in my life both nostalgically and now.
Your Hands Like Birds
Your hands like birds
so alertly perch
on branches of thought in air.
Life in your hands
buds out like leaves-to-be,
moves the minds of the fruits to fruition,
your hands set still air free.
When you talk I listen,
but mostly I watch your hands.
Backyard Photos by M. Bencivengo
"Heron at the Lagoon"