People typically listen with their heads, attentive to logic and thought, or with their hearts, to feeling and insinuation. But there’s also a frequently untapped ability to listen with one’s hands, as I recognized at a Susan Stark concert in Brunswick, Maine. There, two Quaker pastors from Kenya (themselves excellent, forceful singers) sat with arms flexed out before them, as if each held an invisible beach ball squeezed slowly. They were appraising the vibration of the room, the presence of Holy Spirit moving. This time, the current was plentiful and active. Try it, in public – at a governmental hearing, a poetry reading, a concert or play, a sporting event – and you, too, may observe how the sense of each occasion may differ. Watch a master carpenter or a first-rate baker, as well, to see how hands ponder a task, running ahead of mental comprehension. A musician often seems to hear music through the fingers, as if playing, even when no instrument is present. Perhaps a surgeon does the same with medicine.

The impression shapes the central section of Foreign Exchange, my newest collection of poems. Please feel them for yourself. These poems celebrate  movement perceived through a Third Ear, between the hands. The tactile response.


For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.




  1. Have you ever stopped to watch a conversation between people using sign language? The intensity of focus on one another is often much greater than people who can “listen” without having to watch as well.

    This also came home to me when, at one point, I was considering whether I might need to learn and use sign language in leading worship. Augustine said that “he who sings prays twice,” would that be just as true of she who speaks with lips and hands?

    It’s not quite the same as listening with hands, but it seems to me that there is a link there, somewhere…

    • I love this perspective. Thanks, too, for the quote by Augustine. It’s inscribed under the lid of a friend’s harpsichord, in Italian, without attribution. As you observe, once again we have fingers in motion.
      Good to hear from you again.

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