“Bullock Cart” watercolor painting by M.K. Kelkar
(For the Abolitionist Potters of Chester County, Pennsylvania)
Bluebird potters, they called you,
your kiln-smoke grafting winter on to spring.
You had the power to call birds north
with a gallon crock, rung by your knuckle,
toning the fire-birthed heat to the breeze,
that clear note drifting south
below the Mason-Dixon line.
Your county’s hills enclose me here
the way that sleepers’ knees push up green quilts.
In this fieldstone cellar-hole, open to March’s sky,
I find your stoneware jug, tamped in a niche
one hundred fifty years ago.
Blue-gray clay hide restrains the bulbous dark inside.
I sniff the vinegared past, tip to my ear this conch,
this echo-holder, stamped by a whorl at the handle’s base.
I read you by your thumbprint, potter.
Mahlon Brosius, John Vickers, I hear you in there.
My breath across the jug-mouth rumbles.
Sound spills from this clay chrysalis
like that of distant tumbrels, or your wagons
mounded high with straw-packed mugs and porringers.
Slaves — runaways — were the heart of your cargo.
Scheming their freedom, you trundled them north,
Quaker to Quaker, binding the law’s weak wrists
with your compassion.
Within these cellar walls I’m centered,
like a man who wakes up in a bowl.
This stony jug’s the gift of time, and flesh, and fire.
Its hand-fixed form now shapes the wind
these bluebirds ride and liven with their song.
Hold back here, jug, the earth from closing down.
Jack Troy is a potter, teacher and writer who lives and works in Huntingdon, PA. He has taught over 200 workshops for potters and his work in clay has taken him to 24 countries. His poems have appeared in West Branch, Pivot, Friends Journal, Kestrel, The Studio Potter, and Common Ground. His collection of poems, Calling the Planet Home, was self-published in 2003. His website is jacktroy.net
Read an interview with Jack here.