My arms are mostly cosmetic. When I say this
to a stranger, often he’ll wince
like he wants to hide inside his eyes.
Vanish from the day. I shouldn’t laugh,
should be tired twenty-one years
into the telling of a poor joke,
made of pain, nerves snuffed like wicks. Back
then, I was a boy. No secret
that I fell through that
summer like a star. And here I am
wanting spring and birdsong
after tedious winter. Once I prayed
my arms might serve me
again, roll toothpaste from the tube,
dump rice into boiling water,
swat dead the mosquito
drilling its derrick face
through my skin. That symmetry,
left and right, one and one—
it’s not math I know,
not anymore. There are days I want
to lament broken glass
or put my fist through the door
or throttle the blue sky’s silent
throat. There are nights
full of ache, full of nothing nimble.
No music but smashed guitars
would be enough. How many clasps
and how many buttons
did I try with my teeth
until her hands did for me what I could not?
Untrue to say I lost count
Of what I never hoped to keep.
A lie to say that when
she held my hands to her hips
and her body above mine,
I loved such need, I did not hate us both.
My Arms- a poem versed in pain and hate.
This is a poem about a man who has lost the use of his arms. The poem begins with a joke, the speaker makes fun of his condition saying that his arms are mostly cosmetic. This is his guard mechanism to make other people feel more comfortable, but fails and actually makes them feel worse. However the speaker says he laughs, though he shouldn’t, at the “twenty-one years/into the telling of a poor joke.” Then we see exactly where this joke comes from, “made of pain, nerves snuffed like wicks.” This brings to mind the saying, “A life snuffed out too soon.” For the speaker, it’s been the life of his arms, we know it was too soon, also in the next line. “Back/then, I was a boy.” He continues explaining the tedium of his not-so-new condition saying, “And here I am/ wanting spring and birdsong/ after a tedious winter.” Only for him, that tedious winter doesn’t end. Even though he’s prayed that his arms would work again, even so he can do the most menial tasks like brushing his teeth (11-18). These lines showcase the burning desire numbed over time to be able to use his arms again. We go from this ache in the inability to use his arms to anger.
The speaker wishes he could lament broken glass, put his fist through a door or throttle the blue sky’s silent throat, (21-25). He previously mentions praying for the use of his arms, now he wants to choke out the sky, I can’t help but wonder if that’s directed toward the heavens, wanting to strangle God for an answer. There is clear anger in wanting to punch a door and choke out God. Understandably so, living in a world where you have arms that should work, that should allow you to do things and don’t work. Yes they are cosmetic at that point. How frustrated the speaker of this poem is how much he hates his arms for failing him, but it doesn’t stop there.
As we go on in the poem he describes moments of intimacy with a woman, a worse frustration. Trying to undo claps and buttons, failing, and her undoing them for him (28-31). What’s interesting is the next set of lines. “Untrue to say I lost count” When this is coupled with the previous question asking about how many clasps and buttons he failed to undo, this could be read that he had indeed counted each time, or even each button and clasp. Though if read with the next line, says, he didn’t lose count of what he had never hoped to keep. I really wondered what this was. Perhaps he’s referring to the ability to have these intimate moments with this women, despite the loss of the use of his arms. I read the last four lines to be the speaker saying that he did hate “us both.” He hated that he couldn’t undo her claps and buttons, hated her for doing these things for him, hated that she held his hands to her hips and held herself above him. Even something that is supposed to be pleasurable brings out hate in him due to his inability to use his arm, which are only cosmetic, only bringing him pain.