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.