The Day I Was Protected

by Marsha de la O

I am the harsh sound a tool makes, a small cutting wheel scoring a surface, scribing a line. Briefly, intense heat is generated, briefly, the glass cries out, a hurting sound; they wound each other in their touching: steel and annealed glass.

The glazier is angry but careful, he taps along the line he’s made and breaks the glass with his hands, moving quickly, he doesn’t wear gloves. He picks up the cutter to score the next piece.

Have you ever felt a hive mind, a swarm in light that falls slant, a presence? The glazier is my father. In those days stained glass came from Europe in cardboard boxes in the hulls of freighters.  

I am eight years old at this time.  My father is making a lantern for my mother, but he stops when the man comes in.

I use a boxcutter to slit the seams, rondelles from Belgium stacked inside, lift out honey-colored disks and hold them up to high windows. The column of my arm, my candelabra fingers.

My father lets me play with glass, with lead, with boxcutters. I never touch the soldering iron.

He’s angry at the man who came in from the loading dock.  A small, thick man in a sports jacket.

Did you know dragonflies see more light than us?  Their eyes absorb colors beyond our range. 

And they catch the image faster (a ripple in the amplitude of air). Their brains evolved to process light.

Blood thrumming, drum-heart knocking, throat clenched. The harsh sound of breath shuttles through my narrow passage. The man is talking to my father. 

First, he makes a purchase, the lantern my father made for my mother; my father sold my mother’s gift. Then he asks, how much for the little girl?  My father laughs and says she’s not for sale. The man begins to bid, he offers a price, then a higher one.  Not for sale, says my father. Another offer, and another. Outside, cars are stopped on Western Avenue, waiting for the light to change.

I look over at my father transfigured, his eyes opaque, his milk-glass eyes that do not see, his metallic hands, fists tight, holding the cutter, bearing down on an ache of glass. Snick of the wheel, sharp hone of steel, abrupt crack, white sound of breaking shoots across the sheet. He’s ripping glass in two over and over, glass is shrieking under his weight. The glass howls, the glass screams. He keeps working, head down. There are no words.

This was one day that I was protected, and it was a beautiful day because I was not sure when the man began to offer more and more money what our family’s need for money might be.  He paid $50 for the lantern and offered $100 for the child and then bid up from there.  I knew that day that my father loved me more than he needed money, and we did need money.

Poetry is a place where I can go home to myself safely.  There were many days when I couldn’t be protected.  In a poem, you can work with pain and suffering.  You can embrace your joy.  You can order the world according to your lights. Finally, you don’t have to run away from yourself.  You can go home.

Marsha de la O

Marsha de la O’s upcoming book from Pitt Poetry Series, Every Ravening Thing, is due out in Spring 2019.  Antidote for Night, won the 2015 Isabella Gardner Award and was published by BOA Editions.  Her first book, Black Hope, was awarded the New Issues Press Poetry Prize and was published by New Issues Press, Western Michigan University in 1997. In 1998, Black Hope won an Editors Choice, Small Press Book Award. Other awards include the Morton Marcus Poetry Award and the dA Poetry Award. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College. She has published extensively, including recent poems in The New Yorker and Kenyon Review, with work forthcoming in Prairie Schooner. De La O lives in Ventura, California, with her husband, poet and editor Phil Taggart. Together, they produce poetry readings and events in Ventura County and edit the literary journal Spillway.

Marsha de la O's poem, "Origins," is forthcoming in the Winter, 2019 issue of North American Review.

Illustration by: Daniel Zender