Department of Health Hand-washing Guidelines
1. Wet hands thoroughly
There’s a very good chance that
The source of our sins and vices lies
In our inability to stay still. A bad poet
Once questioned why people run away
From rain but sit in baths full of water.
Consent, probably; or maybe nakedness.
2. Wring hands with soap
When a two-layered micelle in a pathogen’s
Outer rings meets a squadron of sterile
Hydrophilic heads, the membrane melts
Like a damsel fainting in a black and white
Film. When the plot twists, a girl simply can’t.
3. Fold fingers to be intertwined
At least one Renaissance text posits that humans
Were first split in two by God, like cleft apples,
And this explains the odd symmetry of your ten
Fingers. We were also sexless, it seems to say,
And so this excruciating desire for the other half
Is a sort of virile affectation, adopted on the way.
4. Clasp hands together, palm-to-palm
The Talmud relates that the Babylonian Sage
Rabba meditated with his palms connected.
Fingers steepled upwards, the hands can’t reach
For anything, and this says sincerity, repentance.
In ancient Rome, a captured soldier could avoid
Immediate slaughter by signalling like so. Just
As waving a white flag today, the sign was clear:
Standing at the basin, we offer these same quiet words.
I try and think of this as something more than a purely contractual
Relationship, by appealing to notions of kinship and genomic ties,
A sort of “quantum physical” bond that links us and separates us
From others, so that when you press three fingers of your hand in my
Palm I close my eyes and think intently of the small-scale apocalypses
Occurring as the atoms collide with one another, and then diverge again.
I remain open to the likelihood that our affiliation is a product of
Non-denominational chance, and that the hooks and valances of these
Near-weekly interactions are all a private, self-written play. But I also
Like to maintain, even if we are pretending, that pretence contains something
Intense, and grave: the sort of secular curiosity evoked on coming into
Contact with large bodies of water, double-sided mirrors, chromatophoric
Animals, rainstorms, rainbows, or long-form magic tricks done only
With a conventional deck of Queen’s Slipper playing cards. I suppose
What I’m trying to say is, insofar as you are able to categorise patterns
Of human behaviour thus far, my presence here might seem to fall
In line with the itinerate well-wishers that come through your life.
But you will never know the careful hands which carry you
Step-by-step to bed, once you have fallen asleep.