The Works of the Hand--Alfredo Bosi
It seems to be a characteristic of the symbolic animal to make use of one part of its body to perform many different functions. The hand is an example. The hand pulls from the earth the root and the herb, gathers fruit from the tree, peels it and takes it to its mouth.
The hand catches the object, moves it, brings it into the body, throws it away. The hand pulls and pushes, gathers and scatters, squeezes and relaxes, contracts and distends, rolls up and unrolls; tightens and loosens, clears (as in clearing brush for planting), palpates, caresses, pinches, claws, squeezes, slaps, pummels; afterwards, massages the sore muscle.
The hand feels with the fingertips, palpates and presses with the flesh, scrapes, scratches, rakes (interestingly, in carpentry – the verb escarvar means “scarfs” – creates a joint to unite two pieces of lumber in one continuous piece) scarifies, picks with the fingernails.
With the knuckles, it hits. The hand opens the wound and dresses it. Ruffles the hair (or fur, animal’s coat) and smoothes it. Braids and unbraids the hair. Wrinkles and unwrinkles the paper and the cloth. Anoints and conjures, sprinkles (like baptizing?) and exorcises.
It accuses with the index, applauds with the palms, protects with the cupped hands (literally the “shell”). Allows life with a thumbs-up; and with thumbs-down, orders death. Measures length with the span of the hand (palmo) and weight with the palm (palma).
Signals with gestures the I, you, him, here, there, over there, today, yesterday, tomorrow, little, a lot, more or less, one, two, three, numbers up to ten and its multiples and fractions. No, never, nothing.
It is the voice of the mute, the voice of the deaf, and the reading of the blind. It directs the voice to rise, quiets the hubbub, imposes silence. Greets the friend, waving lightly beside the head, and in the same setting, stretches out the arm and says good-bye. Urges on, and orders a stop. Brings a child into the world and strangles the enemy.
Soaps clothing, scrubs, wrings, rinses, lays it out in the sun, gathers it from the line, smoothes the wrinkles, folds and puts it away.
The hand prepares the food. Grinds grain, peels the vegetable, picks the greens, scales fish, plucks the bird and bones it. It cleans. It squeezes to extract the juice. Pounds with clenched fist, cuts to size, mixes, kneads, flattens, rolls up, smoothes out, oils, covers up, flours, wraps, shapes, pulls apart, flours, garnishes, embellishes and serves.
The hand throws the ball and catches, parries and strikes. Lifts it and lets it fall. The hand makes sound; beats on the leg and on the chest, marks the beat, strikes the drum and the tambourine, beats, snaps the castanets, plucks the strings of the harp and the guitar, fingers the keys of the harpsichord and the piano, grasps the bow of the violin and the cello, holds woodwinds and brass. The fingers close and open the path of the breath that comes out through the holes of the flute, the clarinet and the oboe. The hand directs the orchestra.
The hand, carrier of the sacred. Hands clasped pray, palm against palm or with laced fingers. With the hand, the faithful makes the sign of the cross. The hand, giver of the sacred. The hand mixes the salt and the water for baptism, and anoints the new Christian; the hand anoints with oil at confirmation, while the godfather’s right hand rests on the godson’s shoulder; the betrothed extend their hands to celebrate the sacrament of love and give each other rings to receive the ring of the alliance; the hand absolves the penitent from sin; the hands serve the eucharist bread to the communicants, hands consecrate the new priest; hands bring extreme unction to the dying one; and to the dead, the blessing and the prayer of peace. In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.
To perform so many actions, it takes only a small but flexible part of the anatomy; eight little bones in the wrist, five metacarpals, and the fingers with the lower, middle and fingertip phalanxes.
We could never describe all that the hand can do when it is extended and empowered by the tools that human ingenuity has invented in its contradance of needs and desires.
. . . In the Machine Age, has the hand perhaps lost its finest articulations with which it fitted the protuberances and recesses of the material? The workmanship, thus of necessity, diminishes or declines, and hands operate the assembly lines far away from their products. They push buttons, turn handles, connect and disconnect keys, pull and push levers, control panels, ceding to the machine tasks that they used to do. The machine, docile, and therefore violent, does exactly what the hands tell it to do, but if the operator’s muscle flinches, it also knows how to continue, demanding constant vigilance; if not, it cuts off inattentive fingers. There were 8 million work accidents in Brazil alone in 1975.
What more can I say. My thanks to Henrique for alerting me to Bosi, and to my cousin Michael for bringing Rose Ann into the circle of hands...
Make, fix and create...