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The Potter of Akrotiri

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LJ Cohen



Photos taken by me at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera

The Potter of Akroteri*

She has no patience for the way the wind
whips the hair into her eyes and mouth and binds it
with a leather strap. Her back is broad from digging,
her firm arms wedge the clay free of air, her right leg
drives the kick wheel in a relentless rhythm as a pot blooms
between her capable hands. She rises
from the wheel to ease the ache in her hip, takes a sip
of cool water drawn from the cistern below her shop.
Her assistants roll coils of clay into fat snakes
that swallow their own tails round and round
as amphorae grow tall and straight. Far below in the harbor,
ships bear treasures from Crete, from Egypt, from Turkey.
Her vessels will fill theirs, trading olives and wine
from her beloved island to strangers across the sea.
We are ghosts to one another – this potter and me – we share
only the dust of dried clay and the secret knowledge
of our alchemy. In the museum, docents glare as I stand
close to each display as if they know my secret desire
to hold that delicate cup, to stroke the surface of this burnished pot.
Some were untouched by time, freed whole from the ground
that had sheltered them. Others lovingly pieced together,
archaeologists able to separate fired clay from rock and stone.
I lean in to study the decorations: complex spirals
and tiny swallows, their upswept wings captured
in a single deft brushstroke. These shapes are so familiar.
The belly of her cups will fit my palms exactly, as if
this ancient potter had just emptied her kiln
and set them out for me. 
 --LJ Cohen September 2018, Thira (Santorin), Greece

*Inspired by our current travels in Greece, my love of pottery, and the recent discovery that a skeleton discovered on Crete with unusual patterns of wear is in fact of a woman master ceramicist. 

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