Broken Water Glass

for Dana Keefer

Dinner with friends. Tired, a little tipsy,
telling old jokes.
“Why do women have no depth perception?
Because we’re always being told that this”
(hold up thumb and first finger a disbelieving
small space apart) “is ten inches!”
The crash of laughter. Then
clear
and fine as if made
of water itself it
                                    slipped
                                                      from my hand
                                                                                        and —
                  smashed, a broken mess
where before had posed
a delicate goblet etched
with flowers and fruit,
a few fragile reeds.
In your family for four or five generations.
“I’m so sorry!”
“It’s nothing,
nothing — don’t
blame yourself. I have others.”

All the while the jagged pieces,
carefully wrapped, are carried to the garbage,
like a corpse hurriedly
whisked away. The dripping
ice-cube puddle’s quickly mopped,
not to ruin
the mahogany’s finish.

Goodbye, broken
glass, the latest
but not the last
in a long line of precious
possessions
known to crack
in a moment like eggshells,
or come apart slowly in your hands 
like the petals of something not meant
to be grasped.
Each year broken open
anew. As at a wedding
the groom deliberately
smashes
                   underfoot
a sacrifice, a broken wineglass.
To symbolize the bride’s virginity?
— To warn us not to take happiness lightly
(although it must be taken lightly).
So many things are broken in private;
a child’s feelings
which shatter like a puzzle
the adult must spend a lifetime piecing together.
No one can make it whole again
although a pattern may be seen,
the etched reeds, the fruit,
the bending flowers.
And each elusive fragment
handled carefully and appreciated
in and of itself
has beauty still. Still, for whole
winters at a time, we may wake daily
to the leftover shard of glass
dug deep
in our hearts,
the one we know best how to twist
with the blood of old mistakes.

Thank God we are women of flesh
and not of glass
who can endure
breakage, left and right,
and still keep setting out full cups
of wine and plates of food
for the unexpected.
No guarantees. Yet you would not withhold
your best
crystal or feelings,
preferring the splinters to the cupboard.

Buddhists believe
the way to live is to see
everything
as already broken: our youth,
lives, loves, possessions, bodies
along with our mistakes
already scattered asunder, underground.

Then
and then only
can we drink freely
from the clear glass of knowledge
and laugh
at the circular and encircling
story
we were telling each other,
our lives etched on water.