by Heather Swan

for my mother

From the mud in her hands,
the bowl was born.
Opening like a flower
in an arch of petals,
then becoming a vessel
both empty and full.

Later, in the kiln
it was ravaged by fire,
its surface etched and vitrified,
searing the glaze into glass
as its body turned
to stone.

It is at the edge of damage
that beauty is honed.
And in Japan,
the potter tells me,
when a tea bowl
cracks in the fire,
that crack is filled
with gold.

From A Kinship with Ash, Terrapin Books, 2020.
Reprinted with Permission.

Read this and other poems by Heather Swan in A Kinship with Ash, available for purchase online.

The practice Heather Swan refers to in the last stanza of “Bowl” is called kintsugi, which in Japanese means literally, “golden joinery.” Yet this drive to highlight the cracks in something—what some might call its failures—goes against the message most of us receive throughout our lives, that we should be striving for a perfection I’m not even sure exists for anyone. We are each born of such humble materials, “from the mud,” as it were, and are then sent into the fires of life with little protection, often to be “ravaged . . . etched and vitrified.” We are then paradoxically encouraged to hide all evidence of past pain, to conceal our scars and the markings that can render us kinder and more compassionate people. Eventually, we come to see, as Heather Swan puts it so well: “It is at the edge of damage that beauty is honed.” It is by risking brokenness that we grow stronger and kinder, “a vessel both empty and full,” made more true by its so-called flaws.