Is Nothing Sacred? – a poem by Stapleton Nash

Is Nothing Sacred?

There is, in a historical museum in Vancouver
(or was– they let these exhibits roam, nomad-style),
An earthenware bowl that dates,
We know with the help of dying carbon, and specialists
Who have spent the better parts of their primes
Painstakingly taxonomizing the patterning of pottery into epochs,
To something like six thousand years ago.

A friend of mine cried to behold it.
For her, it was more beautiful a relic
Than the bones of some beloved saint. It breathed,
She said, with the livelihoods of persons
We will never know the names of.
Like a baby that died in transit and was cast into the seas,
The skeleton remains are nudged by fish
Who can only guess at its origins.

That night I dreamt that I walked through the doors to the museum,
Entered the hall where the temporary exhibit was housed,
Broke the glass surrounding the bowl
And poured myself some Lucky Charms.
The curators tore at themselves in agony.
I had committed a sin beyond imagining–
An act worse than murder.
Blasphemy against history, an insult to all humanity.
I awoke, however, smiling,
Feeling my dream-self had done something of deep rightness,
Of immense dignity.

Curators might shudder even to consider it,
But the potter, if he could see it, would be satisfied.
After all, who puts their hands to clay, shapes a wide lip,
A deep basin, scratches in a pattern and fires it all, hoping
That it will go on to gather dust and be varnished
By our awed gazes, our respectful hush?
The maker of the bowl did not intend to illustrate a point
About the style of late Mesopotamian crockery.
A bowl does not want to be filled with history.
If the bowl itself could speak, would it not feel vindicated,
To know that it is still full of life,
Still full of meaning,
Still full of breakfast?


Stapleton Nash was born and raised on Vancouver Island, where she grew up swimming, beach-combing, and writing letters to imaginary mermaid friends. Since then, she has lived in Montreal, where she studied literature, and more recently has been teaching English to children just outside of Taipei. She has had poems published in NewMag and The Mark.


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