Hannah Stephenson, “A Light Hand”

A Light Hand (from The Storialist)
Hannah Stephenson

It takes a light hand a hand made of
snow to thoroughly dishevel the beloved
You have evenly shaded in a cloud
with the side of the pencil tip
You have brought the door back to itself
so that in closing it you felt the doorway
inhale You have slit the neck of many balloons
to dispose of someone else’s breath
You make everything faint rejoice
and faint


You know, I attended a lecture by Harvey Mansfield today that was all about “effectual truth” in Machiavelli. How Machiavelli rejects the notion we should imagine ideal republics, throwing away sight and the distance it implies as a metaphor for approaching knowledge. How touch – possession, violence, sensuality and sensitivity all wrapped into one – constitutes a knower. In such a vein, to experience and learn from necessities more than imagination is life and proper thinking about life.

So now I come to this poem which does not seem to concern modern political thought (as opposed to ancient or medieval thought). It starts with “a light hand a hand made of snow” that completely “dishevel[s] the beloved.” Machiavelli speaks of the flexibility of the Prince, a capacity to do good or evil as the occasion requires, a dexterity of so much agility and prowess it is sinister. Here, we’re talking about something delicate, dextrous, and cold which will definitely unnerve a beloved. A hint is given that it could excite, but I feel that is the internal audience’s perception only.

A lover is a strange sort of being. Not all lovers are creeps, but this poem presents a creepy “love” which may be more present than we like to think. The even shading of a cloud with the side of a pencil – too much perfection, too much artifice. Nothing natural presents itself in what could be beautiful. To close a door in such a way so as to feel the air from the other side – again, far too much attention to detail. “The door back to itself:” the audience addressed, the lover/creep, does not really go anywhere. And I don’t think I need to comment further on the audience having “slit the neck of many balloons.”

I’d like to think this was a poem about a creep simply. But it does seem to me that there is something dangerous and sharp in sensuality. A tremendous sensitivity to the sensual unnerves. Creeps can emerge from lovers, as they experience to a fault the physical presence of another. To be sure, there is a simple joy in true love: “rejoice.” But that rejoicing is bounded by two mentions of “faint.” The same vigor in a lover’s vision at a relationship’s beginning, kept around too long, can turn into something far darker. Perhaps the problem is “light” at the poem’s opening. That real love gets heavy, that it becomes weighted with seriousness, prevents the playful from being our use of each other.