Instructions on Not Giving Up

Design by Cleo Maloney

Outside my bedroom window, I can see floret-tipped branches splaying outwards. Ada Limón describes in words more beautiful than mine, “a new slick leaf / unfurling like a fist to an open palm.” This time last year, I was experiencing this season for the first time. I remember sharing these vernal realities with my partner from home (to us, spring was a novelty unimaginable). I voiced each green unfamiliarity into my phone, round-faced and ruddy with delight, describing with detail every tendril grasping towards the sun. 

Three months later, our four-year relationship would be over. The biting summer light tore away glancing memories of spring; a boy’s violent carelessness ripped apart an adolescent love already fading. These things tend to happen without warning. I returned to New Haven in the fall, slightly older and more somber. I felt hard skin growing over surfaces once too tender even to touch. 

Ogawa Machiko’s Round Vessel with a Torn Mouth erupts outwards with a suddenness impossible to ignore. Cracked, white clay folds over to form a bowl that sits unsteadily on its base. The gaping hole in its centre is a remnant of some earlier destruction, a mark of life wrested from the earth in a rush of hot, stewing air. The maw now waits to be fed. 

Time passes. Peering inside the vessel, I see shards of glass crystallised to form a delicate sheen within. The surface ripples as it catches the light. Something broken has calcified here, brought together through force and care. This is Ogawa’s promise: that “skin / grow[s] over whatever winter did to / us, a return” to something beautiful borne out of pain. 

This spring, I am lying outside under a warm, basking sun. I return to Limón’s poem; I return to Ogawa’s vessel. They have not been waiting for me. After all, spring takes its own time to arrive. But something beautiful is growing here, layers upon layers of green strengthening skin. The sky is blue today, and I’ll take it––I’ll take it all. 

Ogawa Machiko’s Round Vessel with a Torn Mouth (2006) can be found on the second floor of the Yale University Art Gallery.


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