I’ve forgotten how it broke, the great cause
or the petty cause that cracked the handle
into two pieces and left me without
a cup for morning coffee. In the cabinet
there were others of white porcelain,
with steeply elegant lines, cups that matched
their saucers. But my cup was Mexican,
squat, and as round as Rivera’s peasant
bent before the wall of callas
he carried on his back, his burden of blossoms.
Hand-painted, my cup was carnival
purple and yellow, flowers that honored earth,
birth, death, geometry, symmetry, riot
good sex, good coffee, the sun rising hot.
I banished it, broken, to my desk and used it
for paperclips. Now I’ve rescued it, fit
and glued the pieces back together.
Still I’m afraid to lift it, even to wash it by hand
in hot water — it is that fragile.~ ~ Margaret Gibson reads the entire poem on Soundcloud
The first stanza introduces us to the cup, its handle broken and glued back together. We might think this is a simple lost-love poem, until we read the rest, the part that tells us why we are reading a poem about a cup. It sings with sorrow, acceptance, and love, the kind of love that has nothing to do with days in June or red roses, but rather with sticking it through to the bitter end, and finding it not bitter at all.
We as a species seem to have an affinity for the symbolic token, whether a cup, a piece of paper, any object that contains the memories of a relationship. And though that token break, the memories need not; that happens by other, more tragic means.
Even so, it is possible,
I want to tell them, to love what is broken.
Possible, urgent, and necessary.
This is the title poem from a collection in which Gibson describes her experience as her husband’s Alzheimer’s progresses. Memory features prominently, of course, as she remembers the details of the cup’s history and her marriage. Then we move to the present, and with the kind of courage we can only hope to have, she looks into the future – and to memories she will have in the future – and finds it good. It’s just as heartbreaking, and as beautiful, as it sounds.