The Work of Hands

Catherine Anderson

The poems in this collection meet at the intersection of childhood innocence and North American injustice. As a longtime journalist, teacher, and advocate for language access, Anderson writes as witness about the lives of immigrants, children, people of color, and the poor.


She slides over
the hot upholstery
of her mother’s car,
this schoolgirl of fifteen
who loves humming & swaying
with the radio.
Her entry into womanhood
will be like all the other girls’ —
a cigarette and a joke
as she strides up with the rest
to the brick factory
where she’ll sew rag rugs
from textile strips of Kelly green,
bright red, aqua.

When she enters,
and the millgate closes
final as a slap,
there’ll be silence.
She’ll see fifteen high windows
cemented over to cut out light.
Inside, a constant, deafening noise
and warm air smelling of oil,
the shifts continuing on . . .
All day she’ll guide cloth along a line
of whirring needles, her arms & shoulders
rocking back & forth
with the machines —
200 porch-sized rugs behind her
before she can stop
to reach up, like her mother,
and pick the lint
out of her hair.


Listen to “Strange & Beautiful Heart,” “Emollient,” “Lessons,” and “The Name of a Tree,” read by Catherine Anderson:

Listen to “The Life of Wood” and “Wonderland” (from The Work of Hands) and “Attach” (from Anderson’s book Woman with a Gambling Mania, Mayapple Press, 2014), read by Catherine Anderson at Perugia Press’s 20th anniversary celebration at Smith College on November 12, 2016:

Cover image: The Work of Hands
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“Womanhood” was chosen by Billy Collins for “Poetry 180,” a project to promote poetry in U.S. public schools every day of the school year.

“Catherine Anderson’s project—exploring the individual in community—powers this collection. Through the voices of midwife, mill worker, scholarship girl, and teacher, she illustrates how we sustain ourselves against forces that could crush us.” —Robin Becker
“Catherine Anderson’s poetry personifies and personalizes our politics…The characteristic Anderson poem…opens our hearts.”
“This is an exquisite collection of poetry, written out of a quiet bravery.” The Women’s Times
“Anderson touches something deeper than pride or heroism…she shapes image-rich narratives that convince all the way along in the details. Anderson’s poems read like stories, then linger like music.” Daily Hampshire Gazette
“Catherine Anderson’s poems mark the spot where the child is pulled from dreams and made to grapple with the violence of war, bigotry, greed. These are not poems of abstraction; the poet slides our hand across the hot car upholstery, makes us touch the bullet marks in the sugar palms and feel the pace of the mills’ needles.” —Almitra David

Author photograph by Robert Cole

Catherine Anderson

The Work of Hands is Catherine Anderson’s second book. Her most recent collection of poetry is Everyone I Love Immortal (Woodley Press, 2019). Other books include Woman with a Gambling Mania (Mayapple Press, 2014), chosen as one of the best books of poetry by the Kansas City Star, her first poetry collection In the Mother Tongue (Alice James Books, 1983), and a memoir, My Brother Speaks in Dreams: Of Family, Beauty & Belonging (Wising Up Press, 2022). Her essays have appeared in a range of journals and anthologies, and she has received awards from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, Crab Orchard Review, and I-70 Review. In 2019, she was a finalist for the Jake Adam York Auburn Witness Poetry Prize from the Southern Humanities Review. After making her home for decades in Boston, she now lives in Kansas City where she works with new interpreters from the city’s immigrant communities.

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