This Is West – Eyes for Living; Hands for Growing


Andrew stoops down to the snow-dusted earth and claws out a scoop of dirt into his hand. His four-year-old daughter Abigail, held with the other hand, watches him with searching eyes. She loves to watch her father move in his deliberate way, burly arms swinging beneath three layers of clothing in the new winter cold; he looks like a teddy bear when he’s all bundled up to face the frost.

“Daddy, how come you’re getting your hand all dirty? Mommy told me I shouldn’t play with dirt.” She instinctively reaches towards the ground to scrape up a bit of mud for herself, but the chocolate colored dirt is the consistency of still-too-frozen ice cream and she can’t break the surface.

“I’m not playing with it. I’m just… thinking about it.” He knows this sounds dumb, but a four-year-old – if they somehow avoid asking why – won’t consider one statement any more unusual than another. Abigail’s dark eyes shift to Andrew’s hand, then to Andrew, waiting to see what he’ll do with the dirt clod, or to see what he’s already doing with it.

Andrew considers the lump of earth he has displaced: from this earth he has grown fifteen harvests of hay. The snow will only help now that the harvest season is already done with. More moisture without the devastation of flooding. And from these western fields flattened upon the horizon, Andrew has dug out a meaningful existence. One where his hands find their place.

Abigail’s fingers, smudged at the tips with mud but otherwise soft and white, reach into her father’s hand to touch the ball of dirt, rolling it around in his palm.

The difference between their hands is apparent: his hands are cracked with cold and wear, like an animal’s hide compared to his daughter’s youthful palms. Her eyes are equally fresh, having only witnessed three-and-a-half years of a world that mostly did not extend beyond Andrew’s farm. Andrew could sense Abigail’s tender soul in his daughter’s eyes, but too much had been made of eyes as far as Andrew was concerned. “Our whole life streams out of our eyes,” Andrew says to himself, quoting an author for whom he had particular regard. But our eyes don’t feed us, he thinks as he looks at his daughter. Hands deserve their poetic place. Eyes may bring the world to us and us to the world, but hands shape the world, break it, build it, plant it, uproot it, cradle it, lift it and spin it in the air with a loving twirl. Eyes express the soul, but hands prove the soul’s worth.

Andrew’s wife had wondrous eyes and a beautiful soul, but her hands, able as they were, her hands never lived up to her eyes’ assurances. She promised warmth with her eyes while her hands sewed something else. It must have killed her inside to be in such conflict with herself, Andrew thinks.

“Daddy, I’m getting cold.” Abigail’s hands had abandoned the dirt, now pulling at the hem of Andrew’s coat instead.

Andrew drops his muse to the ground and wipes his hand on his trousers.

“Let’s go home sweetie. I’ll make you some cocoa when we get inside.”

(Fiction and Photography by Alexander Pappalardo)

Published by

El Portal

Eastern New Mexico University’s literary magazine, El Portal, offers a venue for the work of writers, artists and photographers. ENMU students, national, and international writers are welcome to submit their original, previously unpublished short stories, plays, poetry and photography. No entry fees are charged. Cash prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place winners in each category (only ENMU students qualify). El Portal is published each semester at Eastern thanks to Dr. Jack Williamson, a world-renowned science fiction writer and professor emeritus at ENMU who underwrote the publication. El Portal has been published since 1939.