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Paul Hostovsky


The Soul’s Insistence

The soul likes to go grocery shopping
so it tags along with the body
but the body is tired for its part and only
needs some milk and some aluminum foil.

How about some lemons, says the soul,
standing among the pyramids of fruit
which the body knows aren’t really pyramids
because it’s all done with mirrors. But the soul

is standing among the pyramids telling the body
it needs lemons. And the body is tired
of the soul telling the body what it needs
when it doesn’t even know the difference between

pyramids and produce, lemons and mirrors, needs
and desires. The soul has no idea, thinks the body,
and says as much out loud, or maybe only
sotto voce, so the soul  mishears, the soul misunderstands

and says to the body, yes they do have pears,
pointing admiringly at another perfect pyramid.



The Day My Uncle Hank Sat Down to Lunch with Helen Keller in a Café in the Philippines, August 1948

it was raining,
but raining so hard that he couldn’t
see what his hands were doing
in front of his own face, so he climbed
carefully down from the truss
of the cantilever bridge he was building
with the Army Corps of Engineers outside
Manila, and made his way into the city
under friends’ umbrellas twirling
toward the brothels mostly, but Uncle
Hank who was always more hungry than horny
headed for Fagayan’s for a bowl of beef stew.

Helen was building bridges too, she told him—
“bridges out of Braille dots” (visiting schools
for the blind all over Asia). Then she smiled
and turned to Polly Thomson sitting beside her
(Annie Sullivan dead 10 years already)
and asked her if the young American soldier
sharing their table in the crowded café
with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths,
sounds of Tagalog, Spanish, English mixed
with the clacking curtain of rain filling the doorway—
was smiling at her Braille joke. Yes, he was

but he couldn’t see what her hand was doing—
the fitfully pecking bird of Polly’s hand
fingerspelling into Helen’s palm—to make
the words, his words, almost as fast as he was saying them:
“How do you do that? That, with your hand… How
does she understand?” And so it happened
that my mother’s youngest brother Henry Weiss,
who hadn’t written home in over six
months, learned the American Manual
Alphabet from its most famous reader,
over beef stew, brown bread and beer,
on a rainy day in Manila, and now had something

to write home about. Of course he’d heard
of Helen Keller—who hadn’t?—but here
she was, older, stouter, and drinking
a beer, and sitting across from him, holding
his hand now, molding it, arranging his
fingers and thumb into the shapes of the letters
one by one, teaching him her tactile
ABCs. And her hands were large and strong
for a woman’s hands, and she smelled good too,
and to see his eyes smiling when he told it
to my mother, whose eyes smiled telling it
to me years after, the way her generous
bosom swelled above the checkered tablecloth
as she leaned in close to Uncle Hank
and shaped and sculpted and praised,

it aroused in him something he never quite
got over. And walking back to the barracks
in the pouring rain, gazing down at his right
hand still practicing the letters, feeding them
to his left, which he cupped like a nest under them,
he must have looked to anyone observing him
like a man bent over his own praying hands;
or a man wringing his hands, for love; or maybe
a man who has just found something small
and glinting, and of great value on the way
to wherever it was he was going, and pausing
in the middle of the road now, he considers
this strange, new, marvelous light it casts
on his hands, on the road, on his whole life.

— From Bird in the Hand by Paul Hostovsky



Paul Hostovsky has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. He has two poetry chapbooks, Bird in the Hand (Grayson Books 2006) and Dusk Outside the Braille Press (Riverstone Press). A full-length collection, Bending the Notes (Main Street Rag) will be published in 2009. Learn more at www.paulhostovsky.com.
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