The Pair of Hands
by Duncan Dempster
See those two hands clasping there?
Like as not they're a lovers’ pair,
Frozen in and out of time,
A moment's monument sublime.
Some old rugged artisan
Conceived those graceful hands, no doubt,
Through blind experience.
And when he'd hewn a jagged hunk
Out from a log, he shaped that chunk
In perfect innocence.
'Twas then that God leant down and said,
“Carve out a hand, no … carve two instead."
And all the while the wright, not hearing,
Pursed his lips and kept on shearing.
He rounded edges, smoothed the face,
And with instinctive skill and grace
He plied his knife and awl.
Through day and night he carved that stock,
And hour by hour he watched the block
Continually grow small.
He whittled on, but without aim,
Until an inspiration came.
He ceased a moment, creased his brow,
Then carved anew, with purpose now.
He chipped and cut and gouged and scraped
For untold hours until he'd shaped
A hand, both strong and true.
With wrist and fingers molded rough
He saw he still had wood enough
For not one hand, but two.
The old man’s memory coursed the years.
Back to an earlier day, and tears
Welled in his eyes as a dim scene shone
For an instant, of another’s hand in his own.
The moment passed, but the sight remained
Long enough within his brain
To guide him to his end.
He put his hands to this new task
With neither wit nor will to ask
Of God, himself, or friend
The reason for his fervent urge;
'Twas just another job. But surging
Through his veins, toward just one goal,
An unknown energy fired his soul.
With newborn power to guide his blade
He finished what he'd started, made
It masculine and strong.
Then from the remnant wood still there
He cut away till he'd laid bare
A second, thin and long.
With ebbing strength and dimming eye
The craftsman finished with a sigh
His pair of hands and, with final touch,
Immortalized their vital clutch.
"By God, l‘ve finished it!” he said.
By God, indeed, then bowed his head
And prayed both deep and well.
For one last time he looked upon
His mortal work, then gazed straight on,
Before his two hands fell.