Open, Empty Hands

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

In Nate Klug’s article in the April edition of Image journal, “Open, Empty Hands,” he tells James Merrill’s story in his volume Water Street, a story that ends with a poem. The story is about settling down in a new house in a small Connecticut village and the poem, “A Tenancy,” describes the arrival of a welcome committee of friends to bless the new arrival.

In a a distinct, unusual ritual, three visitors file past the new tenant, and we read

One has brought violets in a pot;
The second, wine; the best,
His open, empty hand.

Perhaps it is unavoidable to conjure Magi bringing gifts to the stall. Or wine to the ceremonial dedication of a new house, every house, every room, even the upper room, the last meal. Wherever the gifts are delivered and by whom, the same story informs every story, that setting the table unfolds with the beauty of hospitality, rituals of turning, and even more, and even an open hand, for God’s sake.

The first two I grasp quickly, almost instinctively: flowers and wine. Incensing the room, touching with beauty, pouring out life and toasting it at the same time.

But then there is the hand, open as it is. Passing through the threshold, resting on the table, gesturing, patting, beckoning.

Who noticed the hand, open, when so much else was going on? And even later, when wounded rather than wounding. And open and limp, finally.

Then, unexpectedly raised. In blessing.

A doorway. Surprising guests. Gifts. Table.

An open hand. Open. Open still.

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