Notes to Poem:
Hands Holding the Void

Peter Y. Chou

Preface: On January 10, 2013, my friend Steve Gould emailed me a photo from his iPhone— Alberto Giacometti's 1934 bronze sculpture Invisible Object (Hands Holding the Void). Steve had sent me an earlier image of Giacometti's Walking Man on a Swiss 100 francs banknote (April 18, 2012) inspiring a poem "Mountain of Bliss". I've never seen this Giacometti sculpture before. When searching in Google Images "Giacometti + Invisible Object" and "Giacometti sculptures", nothing could be found. While at the Mountain View Library on Sunday, February 9, I found four Giacometti books containing this Invisible Object sculpture. I've typed everything on Invisible Object or Hands Holding the Void from these books for reference. The photos of Giacometti's sculptures from these books were scanned, colored duotone in Photoshop, and placed near the texts. Afterwards, I began pondering on what is the object she's holding? This poem "Hands Holding the Void" is the result of that contemplation.

Commentary on Poem "Hands Holding the Void":

Giacometti's bronze Invisible Object or
Hands Holding the Void— What does she hold?
Some say it was a bird that had flown away.
Since birds symbolize the soul, it's fitting

Alberto Giacometti (1961)
by Henri Cartier-Bresson


Tunisia #289 (1956)
Woman with Dove

Birds with Human Souls
By Beryl Rowland (1978)
Giacometti's sculpture Invisible Object or Hands Holding the Void was begun in the spring of 1934. "The head is stark, staring, open-mouthed, a mask. This mysterious figure is perched upon a high, open-backed chair or throne, the seat of which slopes obliquely forward. Beside her lies the head of a long-beaked bird." (James Lord, Giacometti: A Biography, 1985, p. 150). On seeing this sculpture with the hands close to the woman's breasts, I thought it was a baby. But upon closer view of her hands' positioning, a bird would be more accomodating. Birds symbolize spirits of the air, ascent, freedom, the soul, and transcendence. Beryl Rowland (1918-2003) wrote a book Birds with Human Souls: A Guide to Bird Symbolism (University of Tennessee Press, 1978) covering 57 birds from Albatross to Wren (plus Harpy & Siren). More than fifty illustrations from medieval manuscripts accompany her discussions on the allegorical meanings and symbolisms of these birds. Photo Sources: Alberto Giacometti (; Invisible Object (; Tunisia stamp (; Birds with Human Souls (

that her hands hold the invisible
for it's the unseen supports the seen
as root and sap nourish a tree while
the air we breathe sustains our life.

Invisible Object (1934)
by Alberto Giacometti

Roots of a Plant
by Élena Nazzaro

Woman Breathing Air
Medical Alert Foundation
The invisible supports the visible as the unseen nourishes the seen. We see a beautiful tree or flower, but it is the invisible roots beneath the ground that supports them. We see humans and animals in motion, but it is the invisible oxygen and air we breathe that gives us life. We stand on a solid earth, but it is the invisible gravitational force that binds it to the sun as planets revolve around the solar sphere which carries us around the spiral Milky Way galaxy. In Antoine Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince (1943), our Prince befriends a Fox who gives him a precious parting gift (Chapter 21)— "Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." "What is essential is invisible to the eye," the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember. Photo Sources: Invisible Object (; Roots of a plant (; Breathing Air (medicalertaus.blogspot)

What is the Void?— Is it the black hole
where no light escapes or the white hole
out of which this whole universe was born
or the worm hole connecting black and white

Black Hole

White Hole

Worm Hole
Black Hole is a region of space from which nothing, including light, can escape. It is the result of the deformation of spacetime caused by a very compact mass. Around a black hole there is an undetectable surface which marks the point of no return, called an event horizon. It is called "black" because it absorbs all the light that hits it, reflecting nothing just like a perfect black body in thermodynamics. Despite its invisible interior, a black hole can be observed through its interaction with other matter. In 1998, astronomers found compelling evidence that a supermassive black hole of more than two million solar masses is located near Sagittarius A region in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. White Hole is the theoretical time reversal of a black hole. While black holes will suck in anything from light to matter into its clutches, the white hole is theorised to be a region of space-time that cannot be entered from the outside, but from which matter and light can escape— presumably spitting out that same light and matter that got sucked into the black hole in the first place. In physics, a Worm Hole is a hypothetical topological feature of spacetime that is basically a 'shortcut' through space and time. Spacetime can be viewed as a 2D surface, and when 'folded' over, a wormhole bridge can be formed. A wormhole has at least two mouths which are connected to a single throat or tube. If the wormhole is traversable, matter can 'travel' from one mouth to the other by passing through the throat (White Holes & Wormholes). Photo Sources: Black Hole (; White Hole (; Worm Hole (

much like the Tao circle of yin and yang
breathing emptiness between Heaven & Earth—
dark matter and dark energy whose wings
or wind give rise to the ten thousand things.

Yin-Yang symbol
Yin-Yang in Chinese philosophy is used to describe how seemingly opposite forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. Yin and Yang give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many natural dualities (female & male, dark & light, water & fire, life & death) are thought of as physical manifestations of the yin-yang concept. Yin and yang are actually complementary, not opposing forces, interacting to form a whole dynamic system (Tao circle) greater than either separate part. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, such as shadow cannot exist without light. Lao Tzu expounds in the Tao Te Ching 42:
    The Tao gives birth to one
    one gives birth to two
    two gives birth to three
    three gives birth to ten thousand things
    ten thousand things with yin at their backs
    and yang in their embrace
    and breath between for harmony
(translated by Red Pine, 1996, p. 84)
Only about 4% of the matter in the universe is composed of visible substances ("ten thousand things"). The balance is dark matter (23%) and dark energy (73%) , although the exact compositions of dark matter and dark energy are yet to be determined (Big News: Dark Matter Finally Found?). Henry David Thoreau was insightful in Walden (1854) (Chapter 18): "The universe is wider than our views of it." Photo Sources: Yin-Yang symbol (; New Heaven & New Earth (

New Heaven & New Earth (2 Peter 3:13)

Once a smart lad tried to stump the village's
wise woman with a baby bird in his hands—
"If she says it's alive, I'll crush it dead.
If she says it's dead, I'll let it fly away."

Bird in Hands

Bird in Hands
Years ago, I heard this story on the radio about a smart lad who tried to trick the wise woman of the village with a baby bird in his hands. It was sponsored by some Bank in the Bay Area, and posted on the Internet. However, I can't find it anymore. The closest version is "The Story of the Hawk" at The Ranch: Bringing out the best in young peopleThere was a boy who had a baby hawk in his hand and wanted to play a trick on an old man. The boy says to himself: "I'm going to go up to that old man and ask him if the bird in my hands is dead or alive. If the man says the bird is alive, I will crush it, open my hands and say 'ahh, the bird is dead.' If the man says the bird is dead, I will open my hands and let it fly away." The boy goes up to the old man and says, "Mister, I have a bird in my hands. Is this bird dead or alive?" The old man looks at the boy's hands for a moment and then slowly raises his eyes. "Son," the man says staring into the boy's eyes, "The bird is in your hands. Whatever you decide to do with it, will determine its fate." Photo Sources: Bird in the Hands (; Bird in the Hands (

A crowd gathered by the wise woman's hut
when the lad asked "Is my bird dead or alive?"
Seeing the boy's smirk, the wise woman smiled
and replied simply— "It is in your hands."

Bird landing on "Wise Woman
Statue" in New York City
Paintings depicting Wisdom as a wise woman include Allegory of Wisdom by Orazio Samacchini, Allegory of Wisdom and Strength (1580) by Paolo Veronese, and Wisdom Mural (1896) by Robert Lewis Reid. Pistis Sophia is an important Gnostic text (circa 2nd Century) translated as Faith in Wisdom. The female divinity of gnosticism is Sophia, identified with the Holy Spirit, or Universal Mother. She was envisaged as the Psyche of the world and the female aspect of Logos. A Russian Icon Sophia, the Holy Wisdom (1812) shows Wisdom as female above a shrine worshipped by holy men. Plato, following his teacher, Socrates (and Pythagoras), understands philosophy as philo-sophia, or, literally, the love of Wisdom. Photo Sources: Woman Statue with Bird (; Sophia (Wisdom) (
Sophia (Wisdom)
Epheus, Turkey

So the Void or "Soul-Bird" is in our hands—
since from the first all is void— abiding
nowhere let our mind work on with joy
to create everything afresh and new.
The Diamond Sutra
(Printed 868 AD)

Ba or "Soul-Bird"
Louvre Museum, Paris

"Light for Souls"
By Vladimir Kush

Dove in Flight
as symbol of creativity
Hui-neng (638-713) heard a monk reciting the Diamond Sutra: "Abiding nowhere, let the mind work on", and became awakened. He became the 6th Zen Patriarch after composing this poem— "Mirror-Mind needs no polishing / since from the first, all is the void / where can the dust alight?" (D.T. Suzuki's The Zen Doctrine of No-Mind, 1949). Ancient Egyptian concept of the soul: The Ba is an aspect of a person that the Egyptians believed would live after the body died, and it is sometimes depicted as a human-headed bird flying out of the tomb to join with the Ka in the afterlife. We may imagine the Void as the future in our hands to mold as we wish. By keeping our mind empty in the Void, we are able to create everything afresh and new. Photo Sources: Diamond Sutra (; Ba "Soul Bird" in Egyptian Coffin Text (; Vladimir Kush "Light for Souls" (; Dove in flight (;

— Peter Y. Chou
    Mountain View, 3-28-2013

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