A Small Piece of Earth

A round piece of pottery shimmers mysteriously against a glowing background
“A Small Piece of Earth”, 8in x 8in, acrylic on canvas

In the foothills of the Himalayas in the town that raised your grandfather, we were pushing through the market crowded with noise and bustling custom, stopping to see goods crafted by hands with skills learned by touch, by lore, by love passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, elder to younger, past to future.

“It hasn’t changed much,” you said, having visited here as a girl.

But I felt out of place in this land of your half-ancestral home — the other half being half a world away — so I was glad to turn my back on the curious stares and jostling throngs as we pursued our shopping elsewhere.

We wanted a simple piece of pottery, not the finely-decorated vases and jugs with flowery designs and colorful motifs produced by the truckload for tourists to buy. I almost bought one of those, but no, you insisted we find a more authentic kind.

You knew there must be a shop of that sort, so we wandered on and let our steps guide us down quieter streets. We turned into a narrow alley and found a merchant’s doorway, pulled aside the leather curtain and stepped inside a tiny shop sparsely stocked with unglazed earthenware, made only for a homely purpose.

“Just the thing we’re after,” you said. I wasn’t so sure but I followed you in.

A woman shriveled with age sat on a stool, unexcited by our visit, having seen so many enter then leave after a quick glance around. Still, we might be ready to spend our rupees so she graced us with a sleepy nod.

Once our eyes adjusted to the dimness we scanned the room and started to browse, then both saw the piece — heard it call perhaps — a small water pot we could use as a vase.

You lifted it from the shelf. “Oh!” you said, eyes going wide, and almost let go so I grabbed it too, then felt what you felt and said “Oh.” 

We held it between us, fingers pressing firmly. A shimmering sensation flowed through our skin as a cascade of images flowed through our eyes and the room vanished, replaced with a vision that drew our minds into a story…

…beginning with hands that had made the pot, an old man cross-legged on a hard floor, shaping clay on the turning wheel, well-trained muscles pushing pulling lifting as the soft earth bloomed into form. Behind him stood thousands of generations, a lineage that ran through parents, kin, ancestors near and ancient, back to the earliest tool-users, who set forth from the African birthplace to spread out across the world, tribe after tribe, age after age, building huts, towns, cultures, empires…

…the vision shifted to show the clay’s origin, as magma rose from crushing heat below, cooled and solidified into rock, then broke down into fine-grained soil infused with water to create a crumbly, sticky, pliable substance dug from the land by artisans who fashioned it with imagination and need and delight into myriad forms left to dry in the sun or harden in kilns and fiery pits…

…then atoms that made the material clay swarmed into view — iron, calcium, silicon and their siblings born of celestial turmoil — the timespan expanded to billions of years, a formless cloud of elements suspended in the void began to rotate under the tug of gravity, the gentle spin grew stronger, turning the wheel ever faster as dust coalesced and chaos was pressed, shaped, smoothed into order. Galaxies, stars and worlds swirled into existence in an endless cycle…

…deeper our perception was drawn, down to the final mystery which can only be seen with divine sight, as when Krishna revealed his transcendent being — undying unchanging ceaseless, illumined with the light of a million suns — so the vessel we held revealed its universal form, turned on the wheel by the original maker, molding duality from oneness — inside and out, container and contained, matter and emptiness, life and death — all illusion…

…this we saw, we felt, we knew, in a vision unfiltered by modern cosmology, in a moment that stretched across all time, through all space, connecting the infinite circles to a single thought expressed in a small piece of earth shaped by loving hands and placed on a shelf of a dim alley shop in a hillside town on our dear little planet.

I released my grip and you cradled the pot in your scarf. We let go the vision and held each other’s eyes, paused in that moment, and breathed.

I looked at the shop’s assortment, wondering, “What about the rest…” the question left hanging.

“Maybe next time,” you said, knowing we wouldn’t be back. We turned to the woman, who gazed at us with wrinkled brow, hopeful yet wary.

“We’ll take this one,” you said.