by A.E. Stallings

The glass does not break because it is glass,
Said the philosopher. The glass could stay
Unbroken forever, shoved back in a dark closet,
Slowly weeping itself, a colorless liquid.
The glass breaks because somebody drops it
From a height — a grip stunned open by bad news
Or laughter. A giddy sweep of grand gesture
Or fluttering nerves might knock it off the table —
Or perhaps wine emptied from it, into the blood,
Has numbed the fingers. It breaks because it falls
Into the arms of the earth — that grave attraction.
It breaks because it meets the floor’s surface,
Which is solid and does not give. It breaks because
It is dropped, and falls hard, because it hits
Bottom, and because nobody catches it.

From Hapax, Northwestern University Press, 2006

What the writer says about the poem: This was a somewhat experimental poem for me when I wrote it (probably ten years ago). The idea that a fragile glass doesn’t break because it is fragile, but because something violent happens to it (it is dropped, something hits it), was from a lecture in a physics class in college; the concept struck me and changed my perception. Waving my poetic license, I changed the physicist to a philosopher. I wanted to write about a broken heart without mentioning the word “heart”—and enjoyed the word-play that might tie the two together—“somebody drops it,” “falls hard” etc. But of course it is about any fragile vessel, it still about the actual glass, and the physicist/philosopher. On a literal plane, I have dropped my share of glasses, and I’m sure the poem was partly triggered by an actual incident of clumsiness. More about A.E. Stallings.


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