SCULPTURES OF MARMOREAN CLAY
(While presented here in prose format,
this is a 196-line poem of fourteen Shakespearean sonnets.)
When you’re a struggling sculptor and artist, you take your supplies where you can find them; especially when things get the hardest, the smallest find can seem a treasured gem. So Patrick was really happy the day, sketching a nature study in the field, he came upon ten pounds of marbled clay, surrounded by weeds, partially concealed.
The area itself had once been burned. He didn’t know what caused it to ignite, or even think it odd, until he’d learned of the recently crashed meteorite. He was awestruck to think this had been hurled, for his good fortune, from another world.
He scooped it out from the hollow of rock, embedded in the ground, encasing it, and took it home to add it to his stock of art supplies, glad for his benefit. He might not have felt such exceeding mirth, had he thought ahead just a little bit. It soon seemed more trouble than it was worth. No kiln was hot enough to fire it.
After all, it survived unvitrified, despite the atmospheric entry’s heat, but somehow he couldn’t put it aside. He held tenaciously to his conceit that this material was so unique it would defy the sternest of critique.
Its marbled quality was fantastic and wouldn’t even require glazing. The problem was that it remained plastic through three firings; it was amazing.
He couldn’t use it till he found a way to harden it into a stronger form. He was stumped, till that grey Thanksgiving Day he left apiece out in a thunderstorm — a small piece, modeled after his pet hen (left out in the yard in a metal tray). A bolt of lightning struck this specimen and made it hard as any fired clay.
“That’s great!” he thought, “ ‘cause I can use it now … can’t think why it hardened, but I know how.”
Immediately, he started to build a kiln with the bottom copper-plated and top draped with foil, so when it was filled, a current would pass through (if generated).
The wiring (for Pat) was the hardest part, and this became his major deterrent, since he didn’t even know how to start generating electrical current. All he knew was that current had to flow in a circular sort of connection, but he didn’t know how to make amps go or which pole to volt in watt direction. He finally worked out the solution and even escaped electrocution.
In his kiln-building pre-occupation and eagerness to begin production, he neglected other obligation, indulging a bit of self-destruction. He let the garden go and then the pets. He didn’t eat as well, and he slept less. He began to accumulate new debts, because of hardware store expensiveness.
He kept telling himself, “It’ll all turn ‘round the very moment I sell the first piece.”
The effect he missed that was most profound was one he had upon his hen, Bernice: She was his best layer, and she’d stopped dead. Egg shortage wasn’t all that lay ahead.
As was said, he’d been neglecting the yard, so he wasn’t even aware of the change. With eggs in the fridge, he could disregard having to hunt for them out on the range. She hadn’t laid once though, since Thanksgiving, and he wasn’t even aware of it, but change occurred to more than the living. His proto-type sculpture altered a bit.
He had new sculptures in process and mind, and he’d put it away in a drawer. When he took it out, he made quite a find: The stone had laid a dozen eggs or more. The “eggs” seemed of the same material but were more glowing and ethereal.
He had to assume the stone had laid them. He’d just barely gotten the kiln ready, so knew he certainly hadn’t made them, even if his mind had gone unsteady.
The model he’d made of his best layer was doing all the laying in her stead. And yet, events were to turn still grayer. Stunned, he dropped the sculpture on its head, and thus his first piece shattered — his dumb luck — and the broken shards vanished (the eggs, too).
Meanwhile, out back, Bernice began to cluck. He’d never heard her make so much to-do. When he went to check on the commotion, he found her laying in rapid motion.
The experience nearly killed her, but the implications were what caused worry. He got a sinking feeling in his gut. There would be three more pieces presently — a bust of his sister (made to flatter), a figure of his neighbor and a mask. Surprised at the nature of the matter, what might happen next he didn’t dare ask, but he was quick to find out anyway.
His neighbor came to visit him that night. Bill’s qualities, which Pat conveyed in clay, were absent, and it gave Pat quite a fright. He’d tried to represent Bill’s vibrancy: His statue left Bill drained of energy.
This was a man who’d been so athletic he could never for very long stand still, so to see him so drained was pathetic.
“You look terrible; what’s the matter, Bill?” Of course, Pat already had suspicions his clay and he had played a hand in it, but, before he’d start to make admissions, he wanted to hear Bill’s account of it.
“I was feeling fine, till a while ago. I suppose I’ve got the flu or something, or else food poisoning; I just don’t know, ‘cause there’s no indigestion like they’d bring. I just feel tired … incredibly weak, and it hit me just like a lightning streak.”
Well, Pat was struck by the coincidence, but he was still not inclined to confess. The facts seemed to be there but made no sense: what power could mere clay and art possess?
“You’ve prob’ly just worked yourself too hard, Bill. (Pat would say, “… in doubt, strike a coward’s stance.”)
“It could be a bad cold … maybe a chill…” (He played it dumb, despite significance.)
As he ushered Bill home, Pat heard the phone.
It was his sister, calling in distress. Her cheekbones had dropped, and her nose had grown. Her hair had tangled in a hopeless mess. Her mouth had turned down into a fixed pout. There was no longer any room for doubt.
Both models complained to him directly, before seeking someone else’s advice (and did so almost immediately); this didn’t seem like the throw of some dice. It packed more psychic deliberateness — a sort of cosmic calling to account. One can’t ignore such appropriateness; this timing had made it hard to discount.
So he removed the newly “fired” work, harboring thoughts of documentation: Saving such evidence, he’d be a jerk, yet he considered its preservation but decided delay might make things worse, so shattered each quickly, to break the curse.
Just as before, the shards all disappeared. As though the sculptures never existed, they vanished without a trace; it was weird. Only his apprehension persisted … phoned his sister first for information, figuring hers was the worst position.
“It must have been an hallucination,” she said, “I’ve been in a stressed condition, working overtime and going to school.
I’m fine now; I’m sorry I worried you, calling you like some hysterical fool … don’t know what I expected you to do. It’s the schedule I’ve been trying to keep. I’m going to lay down now … get some sleep.”
Bill bounded over by himself, on cue, to proclaim his sudden and complete cure in three-digit decibel ballyhoo. (He was back to normal; that was for sure.)
Pat was relieved but still upset as well. He was a broke hero who’d saved the day, but, then, who’d believe him, whom could he tell? And he’d only a pound left of the clay.
He just didn’t feel he’d deserved this fate. Luck seemed to be smiling, till this caprice. It had encouraged his hopes to inflate and burst them as they were on the increase. His first impulse was to respond with rage that no amount of reason could assuage.
Then he realized he was not so poor: he just wasn’t thinking the matter through. His carelessness required forfeiture, but some was left; there was much he could do — like sculpt new pieces, conduct an assay — and the potential was hard to foretell, if he could make more. He could make it pay.
Magical artworks would easily sell.
He also didn’t break all the pieces, as not all the results were as weighty. He has no more crow’s-feet or brow creases: The mask was of himself at age eighty, exaggerating the signs of his age. For Pat, time cannot turn another page.
O.K., did anyone guess why the title? Marmorean is a geological term for marbled, but the title is a pun on “Picture Of Dorian Gray.”