Poetry Feature: here is the sweet hand you always turn back on yourself by francine j. harris

here is the sweet hand you always turn back on yourself


and hold where the ear goes and try to hear what you need to hear.

the way it was put. a bird went to the phone pole and knocked a hundred

times and here i was looking for a hammer all along to knock back.


all the tools are crushed. i swear to them i only make sense between periods.

translation comes awfully late and if the woodpecker got out of control, caught up

in a pole rung, for example. well, my forehead. i am well pecked and out of excuse.

there is nothing to sit on. or quit under. or curse out. or thump with my knuckle.

there is a malady of separate conversations converged under the woodpecker’s knockknock.

he is much louder than usual. and somewhere, i have already fucked off forgiveness


and died in the grass. and somewhere there is a hand. i ought to use it

to bury this pecked out eyeball with a mallet and a horseshoe. or a mortar and pestle.

and i ought to stop saying i can’t hear people when all i ever hear is this steady knock.


This poem originally appeared in Indiana Review 31.2, Winter 2010.

Anni Liu (Poetry Editor): Some poems I love evade willful intellect, like those 3-D images you can only see by relaxing your eyes and staring past the surface. This poem by francine harris is like that. Its speaker weaves a complex world where sexuality, embodiment, violence, race, and language are both surface and background. This poem is punny, plain-spoken, and deadly serious.


francine j. harris is the author of play dead, winner of the 2017 Lambda Literary and Audre Lorde Awards, and current nominee for a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. She is currently Writer in Residence at Washington University in St. Louis.