I wish I could say that I go around with an image in mind of letters dangling from the tip of each finger—the h, j, m, n, u and y, the 7 and 8 trailing each move of my right index like the starry streak that follows the sweep of a movie magic wand.
But the passage of words from my brain to my screen seems to leap right over the keyboard: that is, I think the sentence I want to say and my fingers type it without noticing that the words are balloon or umbrella or pasteurization. That’s the job of my eyes, and if they’re watching the screen, suddenly my fingers have a lot more work, especially the right middle, because that’s the one that does the backspacing and deleting (though I had to slow way down to even figure out that it’s the right middle who’s in charge of erasing).
I’m thinking about this because Daisy will start a “keyboarding” class soon, and Duncan has learned to hunt down the llll-e-t-t-e-rs-sss of his name, and because of this poem I heard on The Writer’s Almanac a while ago now and have not forgotten. The distance between h and two ds seems suddenly much greater than two keys.
Teaching a Nephew to Type
Because you lag already
years behind the computer-and-
otherwise-literate boys with fathers,
and your handwriting is a tangle
the teachers have grown weary
of unraveling, and because you are as close
to a son as I can manage, though nothing
about you is manageable anymore,
I am teaching you to type. The trick
is to look anywhere but down.
Your fingers are dumb birds pecking,
just follow the chart I’ve made.
We’ll begin in the thick of things,
the home row to which we’ll always
return. Little finger on a. Then tap
your way next door to s. Now
you’ve made as. Don’t think, I say.
Just watch the chart: dad sad fad
a flash a flask a lad had. Tomorrow
we’ll move on to reach and return
and the period key, but for now
just use the comma, it’s like catching
a breath, or you can type a colon,
double dot, old snake eyes, luck
in your future, meaning watch this space:
something is about to follow.
~ Rebecca McClanahan
from Deeplight: New and Selected Poems 1987-2007. © Iris Press, 2007.