BOOK REVIEW | Once You Had Hands

review by: Caseyrenée Lopez 


Once You Had Hands: Poems

Tasha Golden

Humanist Press

Paperback & eBook

98 pages

ISBN: 978-0-931779-58-9



I learned your verses, hymns

until they mildewed,

blurred, grew brittle, thin;

until I wept for what we both knew

wasn’t coming in the end:

your horse and choir, earth agape

and heaven rushing in.

                 -from “Worm”



Tasha Golden’s entire collection Once You Had Hands can be summarized in the short poem “No, Thank You.” With the biblical quote “You may keep your gifts for yourself / and give your rewards to someone else” (Daniel 5:17) we are reminded of the phony selflessness of Christian beliefs. Christian god is revealed as a hollow keeper, especially for women, with unfulfilled promises and oppressive structures designed to keep women/femmes under the rule of masculinity/men. “The gift is, after all, none / but the terror that was taught me: / an Excess swallowing / the Byss and the Abyss” is the entire poem and it bears the heavy burden of the women/femme’s failing or perceived failing under Christianity. Golden herself, a southern woman, bears witness to living in the Bible Belt and being forced to carry the fear and insecurity of womanhood in the Christian south. The galvanizing fear of being a woman/femme in the Bible Belt is further explored in “the blood of would-be saints.” Golden spares nothing—laying the pain of Christian womanhood out in the open, splayed like a gutted fish, for onlookers:


inflames my nail beds, tongue

leaks triumphant onto maps

and scripture, glazing


preservation, incantation

there are devils in it



if not, explain

the bellows, whiskey, women

in the shape of moons and children


why none of them will dance

how pleasure tastes

of fear or residue of ash


why their skins grow whiter, thicker

leave no space between their legs

absorbing any telltale


flutter of a pulse


Once You Had Hands is an offering of pain, a collection that tries to reconcile the disparity between religious faith and living in a non-male body. The poetry is presented in sections, marked by manipulated 17th century verse, and paired with photography. Personally, I found the sections to be both necessary and unnecessary, and the photography lingering throughout, not adding much value to the poetry. Golden’s poetics carry this book far and away and needs little assistance. “the girls” offers a haunting observation of girls and women as objects of desire under the eyes of church “fathers.” This poem cries out against the abuses of the church against femme bodies, “the girls were flesh and curve / all woman, eagerness and fever, / fingers dextrous, mouths lit up in practiced ovals; when it came / to altars, parables, to shame and ash” reminding us that even in the sanctuary of god there is little than protects innocence from harm, reminding us that god is simply an illusion. Once You Had Hands deftly paints, in broad strokes, the harm caused by patriarchy and organized religion. Golden offers a strong voice to women/femmes trapped in the vicious cycle of abuse that is often supported by religion. The rejection of tradition in Golden’s poems offers a strong sense of independence. This collection is a woman taking a stand, planting her feet firming on the ground, and shouting “NO MORE”! Once You Had Hands doesn’t rely on old structures, but rather, it crushes them underfoot, and makes room for new foundations of equality to be built. You want to read these poems, consume them, and rebuild the world because of them.

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