Spun Glass

by | Aug 10, 2021 | CNF, Issue Twenty Two

When we were little, Mom took us to Corning, NY to see glass blowers. Glass—hot, liquid—then, solid, clear. Mysterious.

She would go anywhere, my mom, set off with real maps, unfolded, her sense of direction not one I inherited.  Once, when my father drove miles past an exit in Canada, my mother smirked, “Told you.”  It was dark and cold that August night; I tried to peer around my brother to look out the window.

My 9th graders read poetry aloud.  Most read too quickly. I invite them to choose their favorite lines.  They slow down.  There are spaces between voices. Snow flurries beyond the stained-glass panes in the leaded windows of our classroom.  “Life ain’t been no crystal stair,” the mother in Langston’s poem remarks.  How impractical a crystal stair would be, a bitch to keep clean. 

I have a gazing ball in my office. It is deep blue, though I’d hoped for purple.  My husband gave it to me long ago—we did not have a yard in NYC, so it lived in my office and moved to Ohio with us.  I tell the girls it is fragile; if you breathe too hard, it will break.  Glass can be like that.  But blue is still good for wishes.

I had not anticipated the thin sheen of ice that encased the car, as if we had dipped the Ford Escape in water and placed it in the freezer. Even with the defroster, I cannot move the glassy crust.  My son takes the scraper, clears the windshield, scoffs.  Competent.  Unafraid. My mother, intrepid driver, wore an ancient Loden coat.

I fill a carnival glass vase with tiny orange roses to match its sunset glaze.  The vase belonged to my friend, Jane, who died in July.  Her collection of vases and candy dishes, iridescent, shimmering, was spread among her friends.  The sun blazes through the vase; it glows molten, as if frozen lava has come to rest on the windowsill. I add a few stems of purple Statice.  Stasis.  So little stays the same.

I read about carnival glass—the kind Jane collected.  It lasted because it was decorative, typically kept for show, unused.  I wonder if I should take the flowers out of the vase.  Carnival glass was called the “poor man’s Tiffany;” its hey-day ended in 1918. That long ago? At the carnivals I’ve attended, the prizes are animals, stuffed with sawdust. 

At the dentist, I watch the television screen. A marine biologist named Ocean swims

with a great white shark.  Her long, long flippers and her golden braid make me think,

for an instant, that she is a mermaid in a glassy sea.

We hung a piece of stained glass our son made, a mosaic of a wave, in front of the living room window.  Once I staged a production of Macbeth; I dressed the actors in bright colors, edged with black, like medieval stained glass.

In middle school, I dressed up as Madame Zora for a neighborhood carnival. Swathed in scarves, with a dangly earring, a mustardy velvet bolero jacket from our dress up box, and long skirts, I’d made potions:  baby powder mixed with mineral oil and food coloring in tiny jars–home-made crystal balls in iridescent hues. I told little children’s fortunes. I wish I could remember those I’d invented. Often, we see what we seek. 

Through a glass darkly.  Growing up.  Putting away childish things feels hard to me, a headmistress, who keeps stuffed mice on the table outside my office for the girls to play with, who received a giant stuffed sloth for her birthday. To go through a glass darkly feels mysterious, like a door in the back of a wardrobe or a secret passage, like The Secret Garden.

I attend my second funeral in as many weeks—the mother of a beloved colleague. Chilly light streams through stained glass borders.  The minister intones: “In my father’s house are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you.” Can there really be enough rooms? How would I find our way in such a labyrinth?  Of course, my mother was an expert navigator.  Sometimes, she lurked behind doors. 

Stained glass, carnival glass, ice that shines like a layer of glass on snow and encases tree branches. Frozen glass that drips away as the sun rises. I gaze at the stained glass in the chapel and mourn mothers who mourn children and children who mourn mothers.

Read more CNF | Issue Twenty Two

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