Review by Kimberly Bowcutt
Ana C. H. Silva’s recently published chapbook One Cupped Hand Above the Other is a perfect addition to her many existing published poems and artwork to elucidate her continued conversation that poetry is, as she said in a Spence School interview in 2017, “often about what we don’t know, what we’re trying to understand.”
This collection explores the ways we try to make sense of the unseen forces that propel us through rites of passage. Silva’s use of metaphor, words that encapsulate multiple meanings, and divination symbolism all beautifully illuminate the moments of metamorphoses. The palmistry hand cover art speaks to the desire to “see it coming.” The divining hand promises you can see the future simply by studying the lines of your hand. As the collection moves forward, Silva takes readers past the cover to show that a fortune-teller may try to describe your ultimate destination in life, but they cannot show you how to get there.
“Liminal” describes this moment of transition as “a line between where we sort of are/and where we sort of want to be […].” In “Halter Top,” Silva combines rich words with line breaks and white spaces to imbue this moment of betweenness with tender hesitation as the girl steps towards her future. The lines are strappy, stuttering, and perfectly descriptive of her mother’s ties becoming thinner as the pull into the future beckons:
my cousin put it on me anyway
against my shyness
she found it in a drawer
a red scrap
how it let air pass over my arms
only a thin tie behind
my mother would never dress me in tops like that —
shirts that let the sun and wind touch
your skin where you can’t
see it coming —
In the poem “Dent,” Silva’s employment of a pantoum structure serves to slow the pace of this poem, which describes another moment of transition and is packed with stunning metaphors. With this form, there is a strong sense that the reader is moving two steps forward and one step back as the changes in sentence order serve to slowly pare down sentences along with a reflection of what the girl is leaving behind. The last stanza takes us to the other side of the transition, and the lines wrap the young girl in messages of hope and action.
“Tai Chi Garden,” portrays a woman who begins to look at her hands in a new way as she discovers the following:
[…] elbows lift
with unseen forces.
Once, in a tai chi workshop
I was absolutely sure waves
of energy passed through the ball
of air I made
with one cupped hand
Here, we understand that her hands are still how she will make sense of her future, but instead of looking at her hands to divine her future – she will now use them. As we continue to move forward in the collection, we see women learn to come to terms with the unpredictable changes in life by working with their own hands—echoing the hand from the cover—to try to create something beautiful with them.
“Community Garden” reveals a woman readying for the last earthly rite of passage. She has experience, she is wise now, and she has seen all there is to see in this world, as she says, “[…] We think: at some point, my eye does not need to see any more light.“
She does not need to divine anything else.
Every word, line, and structure of each of the poems in One Cupped Hand Above the Other has been carefully crafted. The temptation for the reader to dig through the layers is strong. These poems connect to demonstrate that joy in life is not found in the quest to predict or resist the movements of the wind through our lives, but is instead found in the quiet peace that comes with learning how to be comfortable with the wind in our hair and the sun on our backs.
Ana C.H. Silva lives in New York City and Olive, New York. She publishes poems widely and won the inaugural Rachel Wetzsteon Memorial Poetry Prize at the 92nd St. Y Unterberg Poetry Center. I’m looking forward to reading much more from this poet.
One Cupped Hand Above the Other by Ana C. H. Silva
dancing girl press & studio, 2019, $7.00
Kimberly Bowcutt lives in Orange County, California. She is currently an MFA in creative writing student at Chapman University. She is a Developmental Editor specializing in book-length memoir and fiction.