The Hand Has Twenty-Seven Bones

Natalie Diaz


As you may have noticed, we’re having some good old fashioned website problems. We’re working on restoring the content we lost (including the online excerpts from our new Faith Issue and the last few months of blog material. We’ll try to have your favorite recent Art of the Sentence, Lost & Found, and Flash Fridays posts up again ASAP. In the meantime, to revisit our Flash Fridays series, you can always check those stories out on the Guardian Books Network.

Now, because you deserve something new and shiny when you visit The Open Bar, please enjoy this excerpt from the Faith Issue by Natalie Diaz.



Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.

                 ~Ecclesiastes 9:10

1. I make my faith in my hands. A writer can declare faith in nothing but must bear faith in her hands. Hands are the inventors of language. We make words for what we must do. Our words are made of hands. 2. The pen isn’t separate from the hand but like all instruments it is an extension of the hand. Pen becomes hand. 3. Written letters, manuscripts, are drawn like threads from the manus, are connected to the manus. Manus as puppeteer—bowing the n in supplication, lifting then lowering the leg of the h as it breaks into a run, opening the mouth of the v to its white teeth, making a cup of the u then drinking from it. 4. We press our hands into the page until the page becomes our body. We are an ouroboros—writing ourselves onto ourselves. 5. Consider your hand in its moment of making. Hold your fingers and thumb together so there is no space between them. In this pose it’s easy to remember your hand as it was in the beginning, before it became itself—a paddle, a fin, a solid clayed thing. This was before we were finished. 6. To be finished, the hand had to be broken. Lessened before it became more, split four times, crafting the fingers and thumb—our hand-some hydra. 7. Georgia O’Keefe called lover Alfred Stiegletz, my hand. She wrote, Greetings—my hand—It’s Sunday night 9:30— 8. I once had a lover I called my hand. 9. I had another lover whom I also called my hand. 10. Both lovers are gone. My hands remain. 11. My hands are an archive. 12. Some linguists believe masturbate is derived from the words manus (hand) and stuprare (defile). 13. A year ago, my mind and body wrecked. I had to find a new way. My doctor prescribed medicine I didn’t want to take. I talked about this worry to a friend, who is also a poet and doctor. He said, You need to masturbate. I laughed. He said, You need to masturbate a lot. 14. The scientific explanation: orgasm releases oxytocin and lowers cortisol. (Midwives once masturbated women suffering hysteria as a type of treatment.) I took my medicine and my friend’s advice. 15. My hands wanted to touch your hands / because we had hands, wrote Frank Bidart. It’s a mise en abyme—he wrote about his hands with his own hands. To touch a lover’s hands with our hands, to know our hands in a new way through hands not ours, to become them as they are becoming you, is to be placed into the abyss of touch. 16. Physics say we never truly touch anything. Electrons in our hands repel electrons in the object we think we are touching. Touch is the brain’s interpretation of the repulsion taking place between our body’s electrons and the object’s electromagnetic field. 17. The feeling of touch is just luck. 18. In alchemy, the Hand of Mysteries represents the transformation of man into god. The symbols above each finger signify the formula for physicorum, a red ethereal fluid that can turn any substance into gold. 19. There are twenty-seven bones in the hand and twenty-seven protons in the nucleus of an atom of cobalt. Cobalt blue. Our hands are the masters of our blues. How many times have I given up my head for them to hold? 20. Are the acts my hands act on my behalf, the tasks I set them to upon her body, different than what our creators did when they molded our bodies? When I am behind her, my hands pressing her hips and shoulders, she pushing back into me, doesn’t it seem as if my hands have conjured her? From this position, if you looked upon us, would you believe she is leaping brand-new from my rib? 21. A hand lying on the shoulder or thigh of another body no longer belongs completely to the one it came from, wrote Rilke. I don’t know if he wrote this before or after he pushed his wife down the stairs. Pushed implying hands—perhaps there was a moment when they were not his hands fully but half hers. Did he believe she shared the blame? 22. In Florence I saw the hand of David. Like the way Athena was born from the axed-open head of Zeus, David’s body must have escaped from this soft marble hand. Michelangelo’s hand again and again upon the hand of David—the bend of his fingers and his own smooth veins. A hand giving birth to a hand. 23. Cheiromancy divines the future by studying lines of the hand. To know my hands is to know me—they are my thoughts. Their wishes become mine. Read my hand, can’t you tell they will soon reach to touch her? 24. My hands—my body’s gates of tenderness, the tools of my wonders. The things I reach out with—toward her wrist, toward the orange and the stone alike, into every darkness before me. Strikers of flame to the lantern wick, looseners of the laces of my shoes. 25. Again and again they command the copper button of her pants back through the button loop and each time it is no different than leaping a bright tiger through a fiery hoop to the applause and whistles of the crowd of blood dizzying my head—all this, the circus of love, the lighting of dark, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, at the tips of my fingers. My little makers, my ringmasters, my revelers of joy. 26. Without the hand, the lamp would stay cold. 27. I’m an artist because of my hands. They are two artists building things with me. My hands, me—we are three in one.


Natalie Diaz was born in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She splits life between Princeton, New Jersey, and the Mojave Desert.