The Fulcrum in Shadows

part of: Poetry

by Teresa Dunyati-Long

Driving down into Salt Lake City
from the rich red rock canyons of Utah’s eastern badlands
I waited eagerly to see Great Salt Lake shimmering in the distance,
but there was too much smog.
Straining, I saw little or nothing of landforms -
some white hints of peaks in the distance,
but mostly just heavy brown air.
I was disappointed.
But the desire to be impressed passed quickly.
Satiated from the beauty we had just driven through
I sat back and passed into reverie….a flood of images, scents, sounds and feelings:
weathered cliffs – angles smoothed by the winds of ages
undulating like brown solid water up into the sky;
sudden vistas of green valleys planted with flowers and corn
glimpsed through breaks in the cliff walls;
sun slanting down on a swift moving creek;
the deep mystery of shadows; the call of a distant hawk;
cool air fragrant with moist earth at the approach of dusk.
I reveled in the quiet tilling of the soil of my soul that takes place during such moments -
a planting of seeds that latermadly flower
providing sanctuary,
and meaning in the midst of the flowing river of my life.
Breathing deeply I looked across a dun featureless dusk
falling over the rising night glow
of this storied city,
fast becoming diamond points of light in the falling dark
that disguised its slide into confusion, pollution and disrepair.
We descended into the valley ,
wound our way carefully through crowded streets.
I am always amazed by the sense of urgency
even at the quiet times of dusk, midnight and dawn
in large cities.
Hurry hurry hurry
whisper the undertones,
engines roaring, trains clacking, power lines crackling,
time clocks clicking.
This was such a contrast to the formless flow of time and event
in the badlands we had just left,
I felt disoriented
and momentarily wished for the inhabitants
a moment of true silence,
a moment of true peace
when decisions can be made in quiet,
after reflection and meditation
has had a chance to reveal
the most advisable course of action!

But the humm of the city at night droned on
as we drove through thickets of dusk
toward our destination -
the home of a stranger -
putting us up for the night
as we passed through the fables of other peoples lives
riding horses of our own making.

after much deliberation over maps and arcane directions
we arrived.

She answered the door with an odd combination of power and shyness.
I was intrigued immediately.
Behind her eyes were huge temples of thought,
but she was glazed over by the frost of caution -
icicles hung from her eaves.
I felt at once relaxed and on guard.
She invited us in with a wide sweep of her hand,
jauntily sinking back onto one hip, she cocked her head and eyed us intently.

Her apartment was average, but had a wrought iron balcony
overlooking a little courtyard. I took one last look at the fading of dusk
before the door shut out the coming of night.
Inside the light was yellow and orange
bouncing off golden brown paneling.
All the furniture was low,
Japanese style.
She invited us to sink down on the floor.

She said her name was Jane.
I studied her carefully. She had a prowling, brooding grace,
like some feline version of human femininity
that was mesmerizing to watch.
She stalked the room gathering pillows,
offering each of us one. Muscles rippled in her shoulders,
hard and hidden under a thin t-shirt.
She was at home in her body,
and watched us carefully with sidelong glances
like a predator. I liked her manner.
I noticed immediately that she was always careful to keep her right side toward us.
Hmmm. Interesting.

Fortune was with me that night.
She and my one of my companions discovered a surprising common interest
and proceeded to enter into lively discussion
that excluded everyone else in the room
with some passion
leaving me free to rest my mind and watch her.
She moved cleanly, surely, as she spoke,
rising up and standing to make a point,
floating back down to lounge on the pillow as she took in what was said in return.
She was given to large gestures,
and always
as she moved
she kept her right side toward her listeners,
right hand cruising the air,
inscribing meaning and emotion
as her mobile features
transported us into the world of her thoughts!

As I watched I realized her left hand was the fulcrum upon which her body turned
as she danced for us
the meaning and the rhyme
of what she was thinking.
I began to watch for glimpses of that mysterious hand
dancing in and out of the shadows of the movement of her mind.
It was long and slender
and the single most graceful hand I have ever seen.
I was bewitched and adrift on the seas of fascination.
During a lull in the conversation, I mentioned she had graceful hands.
Something in that statement struck at her heart and she recoiled a bit.
Surprised, I settled back into silence
and the conversation drifted briefly onto the subject
of flesh and the imposition of fantasy
before returning to shared passions.
Hmmm, definite rebuff.
Now I was actively curious.
I watched that mysterious hand intently
as she circled around it
heatedly expressing her opinions.
I finally realized there was something different about it.
It was too long and too slender
to be human.
The image of alien hands flashed about in popular films came immediately to mind.
Awash in the magic of the moment
with no regard for delicacy
I simply asked,
“May I see your hand?”
And just so there was no possibility of misunderstanding
I pointed at the one that so interested me.
She was visibly startled,
but reluctantly held it out in front of me.
I immediately saw the reason for its slender grace.
The ring finger was missing,
but looked as though it had never been there.
The skin was tan and smooth.
Muscles rippled in her forearms as she flexed and turned it.
She did not seem to notice my obvious bewitchment.
I ingenuously said,
“it is the most beautiful hand I’ve ever seen.
Were you born this way?”
She stared at me,
completely at a lossfor a moment.
Still bewitched I looked up and saw her discomfiture.
I didn’t know quite what to say
because I really meant what I had said,
but she obviously had a hard time accepting that.
I looked down
then gently stroked that fabulous hand.
She abruptly drew it back and said,
“No, I wasn’t born this way.”

Then, seeing my ardent gaze, she told me her story.

“I was in a karate competition.
“I wanted to win.
“My opponent and I were pretty even, then he did a spinning back kick.
I knew if I blocked it he’d be open and I’d have him
and the win.
I knew if I did that though,
it would probably break my hand.
I just decided right there
to go for it,
and I did.
I won
and my ring finger was shattered.
The surgeon who saw me decided to take the bone out all the way back to the wrist
and wire the others together
so it would look as good as possible.
That’s why it is this way.”
Then she hid the hand away again
and resumed that odd,
yet incredibly mesmerizing way she had
of dancing with it.

I looked up at her
admiration burning in my heart
for her courage
and the compassionate artistry
of the doctor who had wrought such beauty
from her misfortune.

“Well,” I said,
“it certainly is beautiful. He did an incredible job.”

She hesitated, waved the hand in the air,
a gesture of blank confusion,
then turned away
back to my companion
and their passionate conversation,
but off and on
she glanced shyly my way,
though she never looked me directly in the eye
for the rest of our time with her.

We left the next day.

As we did I looked up at her standing on the balcony.
Only then did she address me again,
“Come back any time.”
I smiled and waved
yet felt deep sadness within
at the knowledge of her strength,
her courage and her struggle with her irrevocable choice
all mixed up with that graceful hand
that was a sign of her sacrifice
and of all the mixed blessings there are in this world.
And I marveled at the way our sacrifices become the fulcrums upon which we turn,
creating accomplishments
and odd beauties
that we hide from ourselves and the world
among the shadows of our doubts.