It is not miraculous. Only a handful of silica, fire,
and then the blower twirls another knob of gold
on his metal pontil, dipping the tip into a pot
inlaid with spikes to make the burning globe
twist in upon itself as the man breathes out
and a thick neck bulges, wreathes into a spiral
like a unicorn horn; but we’re bored, he’s
bored, blowing and blowing the same shape over.
It takes no effort. He stares off through one
of the factory windows as he does it, beneath a sign,
No Flash, a red line drawn through a cartoon camera
to indicate the work is private, dangerous.
The man’s tongs pinch out a chest, a neck, the crowd
applauding each development though it has seen
the same thing around the corner.
We know what will come next. The man
reaches into the bright elastic to yank
a fat neck forward, to pinch out hair, a shovel-
shaped face; to pull out one thin, bent leg
and then another, the glass itself now tinged with ash
as the fire runs out of it, dimming to topaz,
caramel. He splashes water on the irons
to make them smoke. It must be dangerous, this
material, or why else would we watch?
The blower has a bald patch, earrings, scars.
He dips his tongs once more into the figure
and out come back legs, a tail. The neck twists
and now the little face has a mouth that’s open,
screaming. The tail’s curled filament starts to thread
as the pontil pulls away. You want to say
“like taffy,” but don’t. It is not sweet.
Only a spark of heat and then the inevitable
descending numbness. Someone laughs.
Someone takes a photo. For a moment, the room
fills with light behind which we hear
the scissor’s dulling snap.
Our senses return stretched thinner, fine.
We can almost feel the shattering of the glass.
Shouldn’t it ache, this slit
into the sweet
and salt mix of waters
composing the mussel,
its labial meats
winged open: yellow-
fleshed, black and gray
around the tough
adductor? It hurts
to imagine it, regardless
of the harvester’s
his knife to make
the incision: one
dull cyst nicked
from the oyster’s
mantle—its thread of red
gland no bigger
than a seed
of trout roe—pressed
inside this mussel’s
Both hosts eased
open with a knife
(as if anything
could be said to be eased
with a knife):
so that one pearl
after another can be
added to others
until a single rope is strung
on silk. Linked
by what you think
is pain. Nothing
could be so roughly
handled and yet feel
so little, your pity
turned into part of this
with your small,
shyness, hungers, envy: what
in you could be so precious
you would cleave
another to keep it
the weeks it takes to wind
nacre over the red
seed placed at another
heart’s mantle. The mussel
become what no one
vessel, caisson, wounded
into making us
the thing we want
to call beautiful.
In the perfect universe of math it’s said
the world’s eternal aberration.
In fact, we should be less than dead,
math itself disrupted for matter ever to be read
as real. A thought so hard to fathom that The Nation
in its article on math has said
we lack the right imagination: the human head
will not subtract itself from the equation,
zero out the eager ego to be less than dead.
Did the numbers hunger for mistake, for fun upend
themselves to recalculate our infinite extinction?
And was existence meant for all, since it could be said
without our numbers others might have thrived:
the black rhinoceros, shortnose sturgeon—?
Articles of horn and scale both less and more than dead,
figurative dreams that now haunt us in our beds.
Memory’s another flaw in our equation. Was it The Nation?
I forget. Regardless, I know that someone said
in a perfect universe, we’d all be dead.