Friday, March 2, 2012

Our First Language

Marge Piercy lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her novelist husband. She is an unusually prolific writer, with seventeen published novels and eighteen published collections of poetry. Her poetry is often highly personal, often angry with an emotional quality reflecting her commitment to social and environmental issues. Born in Detroit, Michigan into a working-class family hard-hit by the Depression, she was the first member of her family to attend college, winning a scholarship to attend the University of Michigan. She later received an MA from Northwestern University.

Piercy’s latest collection of poetry was published in March of 2011. The Hunger Moon, New and Selected Poems 1980-2010 charts the milestone events and fierce passions of the poet’s middle years, her Judaism, her connection with nature and her politics. There is the death of her mother and there is the celebration of her new marriage not only for its romantic beginning, but for the quieter details. Each of Piercy’s poems is fueled by the current of her convictions, and now and then include colorful suggestions such as encouraging her readers to attend the opera rather than movies because “the heroine is fifty and weighs as much as a ’65 Chevy with fins.”


What magic does touch create
that we crave it so. That babies
do not thrive without it. That
the nurse who cuts tough nails
and sands calluses on the elderly
tells me sometimes men weep
as she rubs lotion on their feet.

Yet the touch of a stranger
the bumping or predatory thrust
in the subway is like a slap.
We long for the familiar, the open
palm of love, its tender fingers.
It is our hands that tamed cats
into pets, not our food.

The widow looks in the mirror
thinking, no one will ever touch
me again, never. Not hold me.
Not caress the softness of my
breasts, my inner thighs, the swell
of my belly. Do I still live
if no one knows my body?

We touch each other so many
ways, in curiosity, in anger,
to command attention, to soothe,
to quiet, to rouse, to cure.
Touch is our first language
and often, our last as the breath
ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.


  1. What a beautiful and "touching" poem. I loved it and it is so true.....the magic of touch. When our mother was in the hospital hooked up to all kinds of respiratory aids to keep her alive until her grandson got there to say goodbye this was evident. After the grandson arrived and said goodbye we disconnected the tubes and mechanisms that were breathing for her which was her wish. I held on to her hand and rubbed her arm while telling her how much we all loved her. The nurse came to me and said that she would not "pass on" unless I let go because the touch of my hands on her would prolong her life. It was most difficult to let go.

  2. Very touching poem (no pun, too good of a poem for that) and very touching comments from Beverly--which makes me share a similar one. When my daughter, Jennifer, was fighting encephalitis for her life while in a coma, the touch of her sister immediately lowered Jennifer's pulse rate. And the poem is correct: all crave the touch of others. Without it, we begin to lose ourselves--sometimes to madness.

  3. Touch is also something that soothes the dying. Worked at a Hospice and they love to have someone just sit and stroke their hand. I love all her different types of touch and the all effect us differently emotionally. But that the lack of it is the greatest lost for our souls.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America