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Hands on the wall

…is the definition for “Tassajara”, the Spanish-American word assigned to a space of California land near Big Sur and Carmel, where, amongst its rocky shelters lies a cave whose walls are covered with a spread of ancient handprints that have been traced to be the marks of the ancient Indians, the Esselens. No one really knows why they painted 250 white hands on a wall of black, sooty sandstone, but leave it to a dreamy, speculative poet to infuse meaning into these simple marks on walls; to elevate pictures to symbols. One of California’s greatest poets, Robinson Jeffers, visited this cave in the early 20th Century and felt inspired to write this:

HANDS
Inside a cave in a narrow canyon near Tassajara
The vault of rock is painted with hands,
A multitude of hands in the twilight, a cloud of men’s palms, no more,
No other picture. There’s no one to say
Whether the brown shy quiet people who are dead intended
Religion or magic, or made their tracings
In the idleness of art; but over the division of years these careful
Signs-manual are now like a sealed message
Saying “Look: we also were human; we had hands, not paws. All hail
You people with the cleverer hands, our supplanters
In the beautiful country; enjoy her a season, her beauty, and come down
And be supplanted; for you also are human.

– From Dear Judas and Other Poems, Horace Liverright, New York, 1929.

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