Monthly Archives: August 2015

“At the Edge of Damage”

Photo and bowl by Stephanie O'shaughnessy
Photo and bowl by Stephanie O’Shaughnessy

Bowl             

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 The Edge of Damage. © Parallel Press, 2009.
Reprinted with permission. Buy now

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, which is that we should be striving for a perfection I’m not even sure exists. 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.” But we are paradoxically encouraged to hide all evidence of past pain, to conceal our scars and the markings that make us who we are.

It seems a law that we must enter those fires, that we must take ourselves—or be taken—into risk and discomfort in order to learn what we are capable of holding. Only then do we 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, “a vessel/both empty and full,” made more beautiful by its so-called flaws. Brené Brown, who researches shame and imperfection reminds us: “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” Instead of covering up our “cracks” or pretending they don’t exist, we can choose to flaunt them like gold for the whole world to see.

—James Crews