for Clarence Cruz


Spinning, the earth begins, shapes itself from fingers of shine, earth

spun on the hub of sun, small wet tongues

gleaming inside clay we learn to dig from earth’s wound

that must be repaired by forgiveness songs.


Earth carries us, heals our wounds rubbed raw from desire.

Buddhists say kill all desire.  Fire

flares the same in any language,

gives birth to what we create.


Turtle rises on its clawed clay feet, luminescent

as algae in the top of a Pacific wave.

Passed down through generations of veneration, you incise

the Pueblo pattern into clay’s wet body

the way a tattooist scars skin to protect it.


Slap. Slap.  Rising on the studio table, you teach

us to form vessels, a crennulated bowl

whose mouth opens to wind, to sky’s long wings.

Coils rise into a bowl whose smooth belly holds

constellations of eternity in its elegant flesh

the kiln could suddenly explode.


There is no unbreakable shape.

What spins could fly apart or adhere

like the idea of water pouring through the Milky Way.


Somewhere the ghosts of my people knead clay

dug from a river bed in spring, clay black

as the iris of an owl eye at midnight,

black as the bruised mouths of rifle barrels

in the hands of Bolsheviks who will murder them.

Fire will burn down their house.


I hear my Belarus great-grandfather, great-grandmother scream

through the stars, the crack of rifles at dawn, lead

shattering waistcoats, the simplest dress in their long ago house

burned to the revolutionary ground that ran red

far from the old stone teeth of these red cliffs.


From micaceous clay, you help a student

shape Matryoshka dolls.

They startle me, so far from home.

Each glittering doll nestles in the other’s heart.

Not one doll is empty, is guardian and refugee, identical

yet individual as the fingerprint of the potter

impressing prayers pulled from this shared earth.