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.