Lucy Tiven

Small Hands



            I couldn’t explain to you what it is
that makes the water slow down
            when it passes by,             speckled and green

or how it manages to match the trees
like stray hairs slouched over the water

as if they could dissolve
into exactly the same thing:
as dense or cold or viscous 

            This is a broken metaphor
because if someone had hair
the exact color of their skin
they would look like an alien


We never went to the beach in Queens;
we just talked about it, excited, the way people talk
about going to Cuba or getting married
on the weekend, in safety. It is almost too easy
to be enveloped by a myth, sensing its archaic, soft body
as impossible to mistake for your life. But then
some people do go to Cuba, flying through Canada or Mexico
or bribing someone or vaulting over a narrow, dewy part
of the border at daybreak.

A few times, we walked past the same waterfront
I jumped into off the Red Hook pier the year before.
It felt like a lie: looking at it that way, like some hopeless dream
to keep us in our world and it in another one. So           
I never mentioned the music we listened to drying on the rocks
or how cold I was still as Sean flung a dogfish
onto the dock from his line and it appeared:
hideous and writhing.


I remember his hands so well. He said they were small once,
but they felt big! At least I thought that was how they felt.

It could have meant something different.

                        I loved the way he used his hands
more than any other person I have met in my life.
            That is no way to start a poem.

“I loved the way you used your hands.” Hah

It’s been raining for weeks

but today is the first time I’ve seen it:
almost too incandescent for anyone to grow sick of


            We did not know each other very long.
There were moments when I thought “I love you”
or “I do not know you” lying down, looking
at his face and said neither one.

                        and isn’t it just too bad
that there is no good expression
for “I loved you as much as I could have
for the amount of time and the person I am
and the person you are”



Is this love, now that the first love has finally died,
when there were no impossibilities?
– Frank, “Poem” 1956.

            What is so bad about using the word poet if Frank (O’Hara!) wrote so many
poems called “Poem”? As we walked on one of the small streets by the waterfront,
Stephen said that one cannot simply try to do what Frank did, nervously, as if, just
then, he realized that I am trying to do that all the time. I have a lot of time to think
now that I’ve driven all the way through Nevada. To tell you the truth I just want an
easy job where I only have to report to one person. Eventually I would like to supervise.
I can be judgmental. I am probably better suited for enforcing rules than following them.

Once, he asked me if I was rich. I wanted to give him the money for his security
deposit because money doesn’t matter to me. That probably means I should have
said yes, I am rich. Because something can only matter so little when you have a
lot of it.



 “inexhaustible feeling—
meets exact amount of time”

            thing. I guess

trying to make less feeling
because you can’t make more time.


Wait. I never said I liked Martha Nussbaum. I like her.
What else? I should have recommended the story “Wants”
by Grace Paley. (Kindly, not as a demand. Secretly
trying to trick him into admitting to feel a little more political
than he believes himself to be. But not just by saying
“be a little more like me!”)

Last night, in the kitchen Cyo’s roommate and I spoke
while he reheated leftovers and we agreed that any work
worth doing is a form of work in politics. I forgot about that
when I spoke to Bob earlier, who runs the bowling alley
and spoke quickly over the phone about "the nature
of the recreation business". I guess everything leads
to something. I want to watch people play games
and become excited easily without complications
or soft pain or anticipation right after
though I’m not really sure if that’s okay.



I have been moving so much lately
it almost stings to remain in one place
and when I get lost I wonder if I’m getting lost
on purpose. My landlord in Oakland
told me he liked me. He calls me “the poet”
and offered me chairs. I don’t even expect that much

from most people. I just want to communicate.
Everyone laughs when I say I hated Paris. It’s true through.
No one wanted to talk to me and my heart hurt all the time.

In the other place where I lived in France
I was supposed to write poems that had to do with the river.
I read them in front of people at an event
while they looked back sadly. Most of them
couldn’t understand the words
or only knew enough English to take the words literally
so if I said “light tore away the trees”
they thought I meant something about Chernobyl
or was inventing a science fiction
when I was just trying to explain a way of being disappointed
after opening my cell phone in the dark.
Because I don’t have a hold on myself.  

Later that night, I cried on my bed and the cat came in
on her own. Everyone was very drunk and looked
strange, costumed. The director danced preposterously
throughout the room holding a champagne bottle
up to his crotch like a phallus, ultimately sleeping
with some person and finally living up to his reputation.
I thought about how what I had been doing was wasted work
and all the cycles I made up or recorded to speak about the river
in the morning were just nothing. Dots crawling
past the library window, becoming ridges,
half circles. How I made a room full of the pages
and lay down pink and white cloth and glass
and magazines and sometimes you have to just accept
that no one is listening. Sometimes you are a broken magnet.
I can’t always cry when I want to.
This began as a poem about love and confusion.
I guess it still could be that.




Lucy Tiven is reluctantly paying back her debt to society.