Nietzsche’s Hands

Celebrated, the moustache,
And near enough ignored
His “beautiful hands”.

Capable on a keyboard, improvised
A polonaise, his own artistic
Compositions “dull and decent”.

He could see, some, but much swam, out there:
Knives and forks, print, street signs.
Then, his mind made up, he laid about,

Sank immense nets into the cultural acid.
When we winched them back in, on fingertips,
They rippled with rainbows—herring and sprat

He could fling, raw, in the teeth
Of the Bürgertum, God rot it. Ah, no God:
So to invoke the impact of quanta on quanta

And extirpate for keeps the German cabbage,
His fingers, subject to whim, and rounded
Like objects in a metephor, made good the feeble

Peering eyes. Each tip housed a labyrinth,
Circling in or out, from ivories an octopod
Pressed the torrent of a tune. From Cretan pots

Their gestures, snaking out, apprehended,
Turn on turn, a tumbril in the stars.
Those fingers must have held, no less, the comb

To bush his hairy icon out, to primp.
On long mountain walks they jotted Gothic
Letters on a page, deleted angrily

Brainwaves, on a page one trouser leg
Segregated from his knee. What a joy,
At long last, to know the knower not deceived

But disobedient, at his word. Underneath
The creams of language here’s a tongue can taste
A universe, cyclopic, but propulsive, alien

To a species blocked by self-torment,
To shopping, authority—all the cockahoop
Engines of flesh not fuelled by despair.

When Nietzche, squinting, trimmed his fingernails,
Did he care for suchlike slighter things?
To a turning pot a potter’s fingers do not cling.

Christopher Middleton, “Nietzsche’s Hands” from The Word Pavilion & Selected Poems (New York: The Sheep Meadow Press, 2001).
Source: The Word Pavilion and Selected Poems (The Sheep Meadow Press, 2001)
More Poems by Christopher Middleton