Stare at them long enough and they don’t belong to you anymore. Wings of naked flesh. A family of astronaut worms. A cold pale starfish, its legs banded by silver rings. They are sentient pentapeds, as obstinate as they are strong. Perhaps your hands never belonged to you at all, but rather you to them—do they not look after you, scooping food into your hungry mouth, twisting doorknobs so you may leave a room, buttoning clothes across your chest?
Look closely at my fingers and you’ll see fine purple vines shooting up each tapered digit, circling around the joints, creeping down to the underside where the flesh grows soft and shaded. Purple smears into blue beneath the knuckle, where the vines swell into roots and burrow in the wide stretch of palm. A hand is an ecosystem of thought, emotion, and gesture.
When I was young my mother took me in caves under the earth, and we crawled prone through chambers where mud licked and pooled at our bellies, pulling ourselves through with our fingertips. The dirt and moisture of the caverns did not bother me. We slept under stalactites. But the drying earth on my fingers, stiffening my skin, smothered and stung. They were not made for a cage.
Rogue hummingbirds, mine, these unstopping creatures. The voice of their motion only audible in hindsight. Once they held the silver end of a spoon over an open flame and lifted it to hiss against unexpecting skin, branding me at the shoulder with a hurt I wouldn’t admit. They pick, they throttle, they seek and seek and they do not stop. They bloat words with fizz and embarrassment, they speak their subtexts unashamed. If they do obey someone’s wishes, it is the heart and not the brain. But their desire to make themselves known comes only from themselves.
Hands are second only to eyes as expressive human features. I met a man with wide black bands tattooed at exactly the point where hand meets wrist. I am the most honest, he said, from here down.
A palm reader with a face like a deer once found me in a coffee shop and cupped my hands in hers. She used terms like digit index and phalange and told me of the whorls and creases and lines populating the fleshy parts of my palms. This one signifies your life, this one your heart, this one your head. They could be gullies cutting through mud and clay, these shoots of meaning chasing their way across my skin. Creases as narrow and immutable as a ball of aluminum foil unballed and pressed flat. Each hand the street map to a different city—am I Toronto? Copenhagen? Detroit? You’ve built your castle walls too steep, she said, I can’t see through.
I look at my hands: Where have I etched these walls? The heart and head lines are tangled up in each other on my left hand. On my right, they are two branches reaching skyward from the same trunk.