“History of Glass,” by Kathleen Savino

Even the ancients knew:

Glass is neither solid nor liquid, but in another state always in between.

Old windows are usually thicker at the bottom, since over centuries, glass drifts as if it has known warmth.

We opened the window gate and climbed out onto the fire escape because it was too warm inside. I leaned against your back, lit a cigarette, breathed until the orange point met my fingers. You told me that you first knew you were gay when you wanted to be rescued from drowning by a man with long fingers.

You touched a flicker of white ash caught on my collar. Night swam through the trees, and I could smell its slow burning.

Soon you would cut your hair, but I would let mine grow slowly, until it reached my shoulder blades.

If you want to know my story, I can show you my body. There is a smudge, a mark like the print of some animal on my belly and I don’t remember where it came from. When I look at it I think of blunted knives, and my younger sister stabbing me with one, but not breaking the skin.

I can show you the tight white mouths of the scars

the stretch marks, striping me silver

and violet. how the deep lines of my hands are like my mother’s.


who was gentle with me first, you asked to touch one of the stretch marks on my stomach once and I said yes, and you were careful, you only used one finger. You had wanted to see how different it felt from your skin, which was unmarked. We were in a unisex dressing room buying the same shirt in different sizes.

To make glass we need: fire, water, lime, and ash from deciduous trees, the kind that flame into autumn, die into branches, and bud again.

No one knows how glass was first discovered, but there is a story:

Merchants were on the beach, and they were hungry.


People called savages were on the beach, and they were cold.

Who called them savages? Is it savage to light fires?

They lit a fire to cook their food, to stay warm or both. Either way, the fire burned through the night, fusing sand, and ash, the glass flowed from the fire, from the sand, from the ash, and they found it in the morning amidst the embers.

Sand into glass and never back again; I think about this a lot, how something you bury yourself in is something you can see through, a window. But first it must be burned.

On the beach you walk ahead of me over broken shells, and I find sea glass in the shape of a wing in your wake.

The first glass was made in hollow molds and shaped with stone.

Later, we discovered that glass could be opened with breath.

There are times when my breath shakes, when I try to speak of copper wires, of who did or did not touch me.

In your house, the copper is buried in plastic, it is behind the walls, you say, I am safe here.

At first, I do not believe you. At night, I put my ear against the walls, listen for blood.

There is nothing except a hum of voices from the rooms below, smooth plaster against my hair.

Here you are: you sleep diagonally because you are long. I sleep curled on the triangle of bed beside you since my air mattress deflated as I was sleeping, the air slipping out from a hole we cannot find.

You ask why I can’t sleep.

I say my left eye twitches.

You say doesn’t swimming make me tired? You say the sand is supposed to have negatives ions in it that make you sleepy, that’s what your music teacher said.

You fall asleep with your glasses folded next to you, and it makes me nervous. In your sleep you make dramatic gestures; talk.

I dream that I cut my own hair, curls flicker against the sink.

There is your city and there is mine. We argue about which is better. You say at least in Boston, you are much less likely to fall down in the subway cars. The ride is smoother; there are no lurching stops. It is easier to not get lost.

We walk through each other’s cities. Awake on the bus back to New York, I think, there are more bodies of water on the way to Boston, than the way back.


My shoulder went numb in sleep and I awoke in a ribbon of light.

I shake the feeling back, sleep on the other side.

Touch is light breaking on water. It can strike a single place, but ripple over everything under the surface.

I spent ten years of my life avoiding touch in all its forms, sexual and not.

I have put my arm into the pool, watched the color of my skin change.

How light changes the boundaries of light and colors of scars.

How the boundaries shift and turn in bracelets of light, banded and bent.

When you touch me it is just my back, and the first time you touch the small of it you are careful. You smooth the blue of my shirt. At the time I do not understand why I deserve tenderness.

If you shake a light bulb after the filament has burnt and hold it against your ear, it sounds so much like bells very far away.

If my body shook when you touched me, it is only an old ringing, the blue at the end of light.

Because the body cannot measure the space between fingers.


Printed with permission by Kathleen Savino, copyrighted by Kathleen Savino @ 2011. This poem first appeared in Issue No. 11 of the Los Angeles Review.

Author: A Room of Her Own

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