I was born with no right hand,
Then I met a man who said I must have a hand.
The first one he made me was of paper,
Papier mâché, cast from his own.
He was so proud, he brought me to parties -
Look at my baby’s beautiful hand!
He did not allow me to light fires or cry,
And he undertook washing me - slowly,
With a well-wrung flannel.
Then one day I fell asleep in the garden,
And a great storm came, with floods,
And when I woke, my hand was washed away.
Daft bitch, he said, as he wound a length
Of calico around my wrist.
I should have known better.
The cotton hand he sewed from scraps
Was much more practical, if impractical.
It gathered smells - onions and nappies,
And semen, and Windolene. It unravelled,
Filthy and sodden and yellowing,
Like the hand of a Victorian doll.
After a year he relented, and bound it
With calf-leather. That was tougher,
I felt close to the cows,
Their voiceless warmth comforted me.
Then I took silk.
He liked to feel me stroke it
The length of his thigh and groin, but really,
I felt fake, meretricious, a whore.
He grew colder then. Stalking in from his workshop -
His latest sculpt, a wooden hand.
It was a work of art, he congratulated himself -
I could use it to discipline our children.
One crack on the side of the head from this,
And there would be no such thing as defiance.
But oh, it was heavy,
And prone to chipping.
Once he nailed me to the wall,
To drive home an important point.
Now, he said,
You are ready for the hard stuff - iron.
But I wept too much that year,
And it rusted, blistered, as though dappled
With a dozen cigarette burns.
Oh my sweet, he sighed,
You are so very, very demanding.
The copper hand was pretty -
I liked to hold it to the sun
While eating my oranges,
Then it turned the green of varicose veins.
Verdigris, they called it.
Florentine wives used to collect it
For the painting of divine adorations,
Poisoning themselves for their trouble.
Years passed -
He started to insure me.
I was a figure to inspire awe - entering a room
With my ivory fingers, each a baby elephant’s tusk -
The bride of death himself.
For the year I had a china hand,
He thought it best that I stayed indoors.
That was my menopause.
Women are delicate at this time, he told folk.
They need careful handling, these cups of blown roses-
They hold heat as Royal Doulton holds the heat of tea.
Then one day I punched the wall - oh dear -
And it was joy, actually, to be rid of it -
To swim out the other side, utterly free,
And to have him cross my palm with silver -it took months,
But it was a jubilee.
I knew that he had a life elsewhere,
Jingling cheap baubles, most likely,
But by then I didn’t care -I had grown used to the weight,
Knew that I held him down too,
Stopped him from blowing away.
A lead-lined gauntlet of pearl after thirty years,
Then the precious adornments-
Coral, ruby, sapphire, jade - the jewel beyond price.
Then gold, the diamond, the platinum,
So heavy that they wanted to go back to the earth,
I felt myself sink down with them,
To the graveyard clabber, to the six-foot shaft.
But I did wonder sometimes
What life would have been like
Without a hand - I daresay difficult at times,
Stares, unpleasant comments - but how
I would have learned to swim and ride a horse
Without it, all the time building up the power
In the other one, and yes, to roll a snowball
Single-handed is perfectly possible:
To knock the snowman’s hat off,
To knock the carrot from his nose,
And wipe the smug smile off his face.
Laura Jenner is a single parent of three children, and has been writing poetry for the past ten years. She is previously unpublished.
Carol Ann Duffy says:
Laura Jenner’s ‘Mrs Snowball’ has an entertaining fairytale quality. I love the conceit of using the tradition of wedding anniversaries being associated with different materials to develop a liberation narrative. There’s a Grimm’s fairytale entitled The Handless Maiden – about a girl whose father cut off her hands to prevent her being abducted by the Devil, who married a king who fashioned silver hands for her – that has some shared DNA with this poem.