December 18, 2012

The Language of Hands — Peter Markus — Detroit

Reprinted from:

The Detroit Free Press, “Guest commentary: After Connecticut shooting, healing through children’s poetry“, 14-December-2012


The Language of Hands

Peter Markus


Our hands are gifts. They give us so much. They give us the ability to hold, to touch, to feel. Hands that build, soothe, smooth. Hands that point up at the sky to tell a child, “Look, honey, the moon!”

But hands, too, can take away. Hands that hit. Hands that slap. Hands that curl into fists. Hands that pull a trigger.

Children are dead. In a school. This is not the first time.

I work with children in schools. A school is not a place where children go to die.

A mother crosses the street with her child and lets the child go.

A father places his hand on his child’s shoulder and says, “Have a good day.”

But the hand of a man—in a school—with a gun. This hand speaks another language.

Guns don’t kill, I hear some say. Hands don’t kill. But a hand on a gun? This can only lead to one thing.

The students I teach know about guns. They’ve seen guns. They’ve heard guns. Some have even held a gun in their hands.

This is Detroit. This is America. This is not some kind of bad dream.

We talk and we write poems about our hands when I walk into these schools. We talk and write poems about all the simple things that our hands can do.


The Hand

The hand that plays with my sisters

The hand that hugs my mama.

The hand that plays games with my grandma.

The hand that writes poems.

My hand.

The hand that brushes my hair.

Aaniyah Young

Marcus Garvey Academy


We write praise songs about our hands. We celebrate our hands in an attempt to connect up with the great-grandfather of American Poetry, Walt Whitman, who wrote, “And what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Whitman knew: we are connected. Every last one of us here on this beautiful earth.

We are broken by violence. This isn’t anything new. Poetry, I think, can put us back together. Poetry teaches us to feel beyond ourselves. Poetry insists that, to borrow a line from poet Jack Gilbert, “there will be music despite everything.”

Here are some poems to heal us all in this time when all of our songs—the singing songs of childhood, songs about how we hold the whole world in our hands—have been replaced by weeping. These are poems written by hands that dream and dream of a better place.


In My Dream Hand

In my dream hand

I can make music.

I can make a castle

Out of my hand.

I have an eye inside

My magic dream hand.

I can see a better place.


Jeremiah Steen

Golightly Education Center


I Have a Dream Hand

I have a dream hand

That can make the mountains move

Like waves on the water.


I have a dream hand

That can go back in time

And stop people from killing.


I have a dream hand

That can take God’s words

And help us believe that God’s words are true.


Jasmine Smith

Mark Twain Elementary-Middle School


These are hands, dream hands, that reach into what I like to call the Dream Box, a beat-up old cardboard box that I carry with me always into the classroom, a box of ordinary appearances that, when we place objects in such a box they are transformed into whatever the child-poet might dream them to be.


Dream Box

I take hold of a gun

With my hand

And then I throw it into

My dream box.

When I lift up my hand

I am holding

A hundred-dollar bill.


Reagan Chappell

Mark Twain Elementary-Middle School


Dream Box

I take hold of a drive-by with my hand

And throw it into the box. When I lift my hand

I am holding a playground full of kids.


Mia Hussey

Mark Twain Elementary-Middle School


I wish—we all wish, I think it’s safe to say—that the world worked in such magical, mysterious ways. Poetry speaks to that source of mystery, that magic, and leads us all to a more inward and tender place.


Inside My Heart

Inside my

heart there

is a cloud


that will

never turn


to a rain



it will

always be


filled with



Gabrielle Taylor

Marcus Garvey Academy


In times like these, I often find myself reaching to the poems of children to say what needs to be said. There are some experiences that go beyond what words can say.

Today is not one of those days.

# # #

Peter Markus is the Senior Writer with the InsideOut Literary Arts Project of Detroit. He is a 2012 Kresge Arts fellow and the author of four books, the most recent of which is We Make Mud.