By Tasha Golden
The lives of women and girls in the Bible Belt are often shrouded in secrecy and confined to the shadows. A finalist for the 2016 Ohioana Book Award in Poetry, Once You Had Hands, gives voice to the silence surrounding issues of domestic violence and women’s subservience in the name of religion.
In stunning language that is delicate and raw, Golden draws on her family’s Tennessee roots, as well as the distinctive experience of growing up in a conservative Christian culture. The poems move the reader, sometimes to sadness and sometimes to anger, with the disappointments of religion and its broken promises. In “When they told me he was knocking,” Golden writes about God not as an omnipotent protector or a benevolent father but as a presence that “hacked and carved himself the space/I hadn’t left him.” The desperation, and ultimate unfulfillment, of believers is sharply revealed in “(For Our Struggle Is Not Against Flesh and Blood),” in which Golden addresses the deity, “we’d cut you open, drain you dry/to drink that blood, bathe in it, see if there’s any/power in it—that ancient wine/But you don’t have a heart.” The stark and minimalist black and white photography of Michael Wilson beautifully underscores the book’s moods and heightens the sense of place created in its pages.
Golden’s poems raise evocative questions about the nature of religion and its domineering relationship to those who follow it. The book’s final poem, “Once You Had Hands” keenly articulates the loss and relief felt in leaving religion: “I only know/how long I keep dreaming, asking,/How long, Lord?.../I soak my pillow, shirt, and wake/with one hand firm against my brow./It isn’t yours.” Her poignant style will haunt the reader long after the book has been finished.
Tasha Golden is the frontwoman and songwriter for the critically-acclaimed band Ellery (www.ellerymusic.com). Her songs have been heard in major motion pictures, TV dramas, radio, and more. Her poetry and prose have been published in Pleaides, Ethos Journal, and Coldnoon Poetics, among others. She researches the impact of the arts on social silences, and blogs for Ploughshares literary journal.
“Tasha Golden's Once You Had Hands is a smart and moving book of poetry. There is a fierce voice here that can make you feel danger without always naming it, and it is indeed a dangerous world that we meet here. Golden has sharp senses and wit in depicting her disappointment and fury at religious promises. There is joy here too, hard won, and quietly compelling.”
– Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Who Said and Doubt: A History
“When ‘Christian’ attitudes, rituals, and abuses (physical and mental) are part of one's formative experience of the richness of life itself, how does one extricate oneself from the perversion of this ‘religion’ yet affirm the glory and terror of existence? This book is a feral cry that invents the only form that can contain it; it’s a cry embodied in and ennobled by art, which doesn’t dilute but enhances its power. I am at a loss to describe, even from the outside, that power. I can only urge you to read it.”
– James Cummins, author of Still Some Cake
“Wise, desperately sad, Tasha Golden’s poetry finds a sinewy resilience in rhythm. Heartbeat-like, propulsive, the beat intensifies a disturbing atmosphere in which pain and harm are perversely sexualized and aestheticized. Golden’s perversions turn out to be the reverse of self-indulgence. They are an ethic and a strategy she wields against the gray meaninglessness of the problem of evil. Domestic horrors are twisted into gorgeous sequined structures that in their artifice, their passionate madeness, remind us that purposeful transformation is possible.”
– Catherine Wagner, author of Nervous Device
“Tasha Golden, ‘ankle deep in Jeremiah,’ has drunk deeply of ‘God the Creator of Things that Don’t Last,’ a God Who broods over rural Tennessee and makes its people His own. Golden is His anti-prophet, unacknowledged female emanation of a patriarchal deity Who has despoiled too many generations of Southern women. Yet this furious book is also a work of graceful beauty. Interspersed with inspired manipulations of poems by the metaphysical Henry Vaughan, and the evocative photos of Michael Wilson, Golden’s work will stay with the reader for a long time.”
– Norman Finkelstein, author of Track; Professor of English, Xavier University
“One has the feeling that this clear-eyed writer set out to wield poems like glowing lanterns against a tide of darkness and loss, and finding she could not stem the tide, chose instead to illuminate the questions we are all too often afraid to ask. Turns out a writer with a nimble mind and enough courage can make the fearsome questions beautiful.”
– Linford Detweiler, Over the Rhine
Title Poem From
Once You Had Hands
By Tasha Golden
Once You Had Hands
like a mother’s.
That was a long time ago.
Since then, I’ve woken
in the middle of the Psalms
sweating, scared you heard
the prayer I uttered in my sleep
(unwilling), that you’d answer
and it’d feel just like it used to –
like a hot drink down the throat,
like being swaddled, wrung –
and that I wouldn’t tell you no. Afraid
you’d move and I would too, a tidal pull
I can’t resist, temptation massive
as a moon. I don’t know when
the dreaming started, why I rush
into the Babylons, Bathshebas,
why I turn your oaths on spits
to watch them burn. I don’t know why
none of the kings’ horses and men
could ever make you come, deliver,
why they offered you their bodies, wine,
and still you wouldn’t eat. I only know
how I keep dreaming, asking,
How long, Lord? and how the blood
drains from my lips, how in my sleep
I soak my pillow, shirt, and wake
with one hand firm against my brow.
It isn’t yours.