What The Right Hand Knows
The title of Healy’s sensual, urgent debut collection, What the Right Hand Knows contains an invisible reference to the left hand —the other side of the pair—what does it know? What does it not know? Immediately we are thrust into a teetering, asymmetric world where a speaker, “deaf in one ear,” ponders that “the Moon’s dark side / has no sound.” Elsewhere, another pair, a mother and child finally “take the journey they’d talked about” but it is “a Sunday drive on Tuesday,” a near-miss “only tracing circumferences.” Healy’s poems concern themselves with these and other disappointments as well with the tendernesses of important relationships: what it is that occurs between lovers, parents and children, between past and present, between mind and body.
This is a book of “salt and work,” of survival: surviving ourselves, our illnesses, our language. As a mode of survival, Healy’s poised lines acknowledge and celebrate the “perfect hurt” of a world which repeatedly requires “an act of forbearance,” a chance “we wed / and spend life / thwarting / one another?” Since we cannot avoid “the threads / of this web / waiting” we must persevere, and persevere through language. Emerson, losing his memory, appears in one poem to call out “I need […] what strangers take away,” unable to name “umbrella” and yet, in that forgetting, naming something equally essential for understanding the world. Within this intelligent, lively debut, it is ultimately words that allow us our purchase on the world. Healy’s poems combine the controlled, charged style of C.P. Cavafy with the cosmopolitan verve of Frank O’Hara in a book that is as distinctive for its studied nonchalance as for its unabashed tenderness.