I wanted to write a poem about a crucible,
a quiet vessel made of clay
that creates a space
that enables a reaction
that leads to transformation,
that witnessing fire is touched by flame
but is not the thing transformed
(or is it?)

While I learned a lot
about metallurgy and the Chalcolithic
(after the Neolithic and before Bronze),
from khalkós for copper and líthos for stone,
my metaphor soon ran into confusion.

Smelting ore you remove the gangue,
the parts deemed worthless by someone,
for some reason.
The noble crucible holds a rock,
a messy amalgamation, impure,
and you add the charcoal, light the fire and voila!
Something perfect.
Just what you wanted.
And all that other junk evaporates
or becomes slag,
another term for the useless stuff nobody wants.

But tailings are full of one-time rubble,
flecks of this, veins of that.
And if you look at the pile from a different angle,
with a different need, or a different tool:

So what I’m saying is my metallurgic metaphor doesn’t work
because who knows which parts should burn off?
No formula, but alchemy, mystery.

In the Chalcolithic you could still find copper
native, lying in chunks on the ground.
Hit it with a hammer to make tiny baubles
but if you aimed for something larger the copper would shatter.
It needs heat to bend
sufficient heat to melt and change,
to distill into essence.

For that to happen,
back to where I started,
there has to be a container,
a space for the reaction to take place.

In later ages, Bronze,
when metal was made from rocks combined with gas,
crucibles cracked if the pressure was too great
or were broken when metal stuck or the lid baked shut.
Disposable. They used a new one each time.

But in the Chalcolithic, sometimes
the same clay held space for many rocks
felt the liquid copper, the prize of burning,
over and over,
and over and over,
maybe trusting or hoping or believing;
the vessel, not to shimmer but to serve,
touched by fire time after time,
endured flame while the stone roiled.

I guess every crucible breaks in the end.
Archaeologists find some of them,
bits of chemical reactions welded to their sides,
a record of melting, a now empty space,
a tiny, still fragment of god.