John Henry’s Hand

December 7, 2007
A hand is an atom of a person’s life. I stood in dumbstruck awe as I stared, my mouth presumably gaping open, at the display of an entire life in front of my eyes. The homeless man laid asleep on the sidewalk. His hands were sprawled out beside his body. The jewel before me was the most beautifully crafted piece of art my eyes had ever seen.

His hand looked as if it should have decorated the walls of the Louvre, not the sidewalk of Lexington. Every face, every river, every flower, every bud, every tree, had significance. Every character of his hand signified some integral part of his life.

The art began on the palm. Forests of chartreuse vines crawled up his hand. Palmetto fronds, maple buds, pine branches, ash leaves, weld together to create the forest of our world. They created the tangled entwining relationships of his life. They alluded to the different allegiances he had created, the different friendships he had abandoned.

The base of his thumb birthed sienna colored train tracks. They looked as if have been built by John Henry himself. The ties had been laid by hand, exquisitely imperfect. The railroad led to the interior of his hand and stopped. The rail ended unfinished, uncompleted, abandoned. The railway indicated the loss of purpose his life had become, the abandoned jobs that had led him to finding shelter in dumpsters.

The muscle of his thumb was decorated by a cerulean, indigo colored eye. The eye was the color of the sky on a perfect summer day, the color of a ripe blueberry, the color of the faded jeans I wore that day. The eye stared as if is had a secret. The eye knew what most don’t have the bravery to admit. The eye symbolized all of the thousands of faces that looked upon this man everyday of the year. Christmas day had proved no reason to offer the gift of being undetected, unexposed, unknown, unrevealed, unseen. The eye represented the admiring look these faces had before, and the accusation, disapproval and pity they show now.

To the north of John Henry’s train tracks and the denim eye lived a saffron star. The star resembled the one a kindergartener would draw the first day of school- five points, colored yellow and exactly imperfect. This one was the color of goldenrod, bananas, canaries, mustard all in one. It had the idealism of a child’s drawing, yet the sophistication only time can offer. The star represented one thing. The star became a single dream. The hope that one day he will be able to fall to sleep at night in a warm bed and a sky full of stars. This man lived on the streets of Manhattan. The illuminated city night warranted no stars. For this bereaved man, a starless sky implied an empty life.

The fleshy part of his hand was different. A toddler’s mahogany colored building blocks spelled out two letters. First was the letter T- tears, turmoil, terror, temptation, tension, thirst, truthfulness, treasures, tenderness, trust, turquoise. The second letter was a J- jail, jealousy, jeopardize, job, journey, juvenile, jungle, joy. The letters stood for a part of his life ripped clean out his hands, arms, embrace. The letters stood for a cavern in his soul, an astray part of his life. TJ were the initials of his daughter…

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