Journal of Writing & Environment

There is a substance we seek, a spirit

in a glass we cannot swallow.

Liquid fast inside, thick as lacquer,

is prophet of hailstone and gale.

Brushstrokes white as lime

over the blue ribbon of western sky

are viscous curls suspended mid-

beaker, are ice-like specks manifest,

suddenly, in a peculiar little jar.

Medieval annals speak of alchemists—

mystics of pigeon guts, bedfellows

to the oracle of quicksilver—

brewing the elixir precise as clockwork

from crushed abalone shells,

egg-whites from a hen’s first clutch,

the ancient, frozen air mined

from a glacier. Zealous seekers

chanted “Tempest fugit” as they

doled over fortunes for their prize.

Italian sailors hawked casks of squid ink

for crude replicas. True wayfarers

heeded these crystal instruments;

Admiral FitzRoy revered it most

of all his tackle, weighed anchor

on say-so of this curiosity:

container clear, idle on the mast—

safe passage. It was once thought the lacy

granules hovering within the vial

were petrified snowflakes that appeared

from the Hereafter. Many have refuted

any sign of its gift, the certainty

of its spark. It has not one name.

Its purpose is simply visible,

virtue as heavy as the human heart.

To crack its brittle hull and interpret

its innards would say nothing at all

of the diviner once inside this sealed vessel

of seawater and cloud-smoke.