The word hand floats above your hand
like a small cloud over a lake.
The word hand anchors
your hand to this table
your hand is a warm stone
I hold between two words.
This quotation, from “You Begin,” is Atwood’s attempt to clarify the connection and the gap between words and the things they signify. When trying to teach her daughter about her hand—and about the word hand—the speaker first reverts to simile: the meanings of words float by the child like a “cloud,” ephemeral, porous, and just out of reach. Her metaphor becomes more direct in the next line, in which she again identifies the distinction between the actual hand and the “word hand.” Here, in direct contrast to the previous image, language acts as an anchor, grounding the daughter’s understanding of reality into concrete and immediate experiences. In the last of the metaphors, Atwood attempts to eradicate the distinction between the hand and the “word hand”: the physical hand becomes a metaphor (“a warm stone”) but, at the same time, retains its status as a word (the stone rests inside “two words”). Atwood subtly comments on the way our experience of objects and bodies is always mediated by our ability to use language.