An Exchange between the Fingers and the Toes

By John Fuller b. 1937 John Fuller
Cramped, you are hardly anything but fidgets.   
We, active, differentiate the digits:
Whilst you are merely little toe and big
(Or, in the nursery, some futile pig)
Through vital use as pincers there has come   
Distinction of the finger and the thumb;
Lacking a knuckle you have sadly missed   
Our meaningful translation to a fist;
And only by the curling of that joint
Could the firm index come to have a point.   
You cannot punch or demonstrate or hold   
And therefore cannot write or pluck or mould:   
Indeed, it seems deficiency in art
Alone would prove you the inferior part.

Not so, my friends. Our clumsy innocence   
And your deft sin is the main difference   
Between the body’s near extremities.
Please do not think that we intend to please:   
Shut in the dark, we once were free like you.   
Though you enslaved us, are you not slaves, too?   
Our early balance caused your later guilt,   
Erect, of finding out how we were built.   
Your murders and discoveries compile   
A history of the crime of being agile,
And we it is who save you when you fight   
Against the odds: you cannot take to flight.   
Despite your fabrications and your cunning,   
The deepest instinct is expressed in running.

John Fuller, “An Exchange between the Fingers and the Toes” from Collected Poems, published by Chatto & Windus. Used by permission of The Random House Group Limited,

Source: Collected Poems (1996)

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Poet John Fuller b. 1937


Subjects Nature, The Body

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 John  Fuller


A prolific poet, novelist, children’s writer, critic, and editor, John Fuller has written or edited nearly 50 books, including more than a dozen collections of poetry. Fuller was born in Kent, England, and his father was the poet Roy Fuller. John Fuller was mentored by W.H. Auden and also influenced by Eliot, Graves, and Stevens. His poetry displays a virtuosic ease within the constraints of formal, metered verse; it is a poetry . . .

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SUBJECT Nature, The Body


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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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