1. Glory Hole
—A high-temperature chamber used for reshaping glass on either a punty rod or blow pipe.
—In a men’s room, a hole between two stalls through which one may give or receive a blowjob.
This vessel has curves
pleasing to the eye, a soft lip,
a flat foot to rest on. I want to cup my palms
over the glowing color of its cooling,
but later. . . .
Now my eye is caught in the heat
of its final fire polish.
What dripped from the pipe
—radiant, thick as semen—
achieves fulfillment in the motions
of my own turning.
The amorphous, the malleable
awakens. There is a taste to the air here.
Steel. Iron in your mouth.
What formed at the glory hole
delicate as an adolescent
reflection in a mirror
cools in the first few minutes from that heat,
cools to the rigid shatter state.
If I hold this cup
suspended in the lit gas heat
I can watch it slump. I can let the thin walls
collapse and tear
back to a puddle of clear:
I wipe saliva from my chin.
I anneal myself with hugs.
I contain the polarized stresses.
I return to the cold of the holding shelf.
2. Pulling Cane
The first dip clear as candy
and then the deep blue tongue
eases on like a slug and relaxes.
I grab the molten tip with the diamond shears
as Jim’s nimble fingers roll the pipe.
I walk, slowly, backwards, trailing
before me a thin, single tendril glistening like water.
I want to run with this scintillating ribbon.
I want to wrap the earth translucent with glass.
(Not even the Indo-Malayan Python
emerges so clean, smooth, and straight.)
But I keep retreating. I’ve learned
how one hot touch—
urged in a moment of tantalization
when the heart beats hard and the mouth
dries—follows like a bullet to the gut.
Welts and blisters. Small bruises in the back
of my mind reveal their own truths.
Thirty feet long and a quarter inch round—
we run out of room before the glass gives out.
We set our ends on the concrete floor
and grab our jacks and hammers
to break the thing apart.
Old mayonnaise jars, plate glass,
clear shards of shattered cups,
these are the pieces of one impossible
puzzle we shovel into the back
hatch of the furnace.
Respirators guard our breath
against the float of hairlike filament
that, embedded in the lungs,
will cut a blower’s life in half.
I think of the age of these motions—
shoveling a steam train boiler’s coal,
hay to a horse, or shoveling shit from the stable.
Fifteen years ago I dug trenches in a park.
An overweight man in a gray-green jacket
we found each other
in a room marked MEN.
(He gripped my neck so hard
I couldn’t breathe for all his flesh.)
There is comfort in cullet—
watching how our sum of ugly mistakes,
our failed attempts—tragic and tossable—
return to the cauldron
where cracked edges meld
and pool in union, to be drawn out
in strands and buckets
and poured and pulled
and shaped again and again toward
something utterly, undeniably beautiful.
4. The Rake
After the hours of calm melting,
the comfortable grumble of the furnace rises
to a shaking roar—in minutes the temperature flares
hundreds of ergs hotter
to force the diamond bubbles
up and through the batch.
What’s left is foam on a great glass lake.
What good is it to pull a weed
growing beside the onions?
Root snaps off in the hand
and all that buried energy merely
thrusts itself to new green life
hardier, more insistent than before.
There are days when I’d come home from the park
empty, needing to vomit, needing to scrub
the musk of another man from my face.
Pull or poison, the root remains.
I cut and crush the fingerlings
rising between carrots and cabbage.
I keep up appearances. Jars in the basement
expose their proof of my good harvest.
Even the gardens of hell need tending
and hold their shacks of torturous tools.
I lift the iron rake, its one flat blade
hanging like a plow. I slide open the furnace door
and balance the weight in every tendon of my arm, my hands
burning. My face
burning. My eyes
stinging. Into that searing light I touch
metal to glass, purge
the unbreathable scum from the surface
and turn from the fire clean.