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Kintsugi

Written by Katie Minami on

Kintsugi (金継ぎ) (or kintsukuroi (金繕い)) is a Japanese art dating back to the 15th century. When a piece of cherished pottery would break, and the owner could not bear to discard it, they would create a paste of gold and lacquer to piece the pottery back together. The reformed pottery became a piece of art . The gold lacquer highlighted the history of the piece and reinforced the structure so well that it was actually stronger and less likely to break again. Such pieces are actually considered more beautiful and exponentially more valuable, because of their imperfections.

You imagine and then form me: lump of clay taking shape in your hands. You endow me with purpose, a vessel for light. I find myself set in a cluster of your handiwork.

Another cup tells me to be a mirror. Reflect only what it wants to see, not what I was made to be. Soon I have no idea who I am nor what I am fit to do. I only know I am not enough.

The cup then tells me to hold all its festering dysfunction, poured down through generations. One false move means certain rejection. I say yes. Accept the filthy curse. It fills and fills me, then fills some more. Somehow this is my fault, I think. Surely I had it coming. If I were good, wouldn’t it stop?

Eventually, I can’t hold another drop, but the flow does not relent. Can’t seem to help but spread the mess onto anyone who comes near me. Time and again I gravitate to that which feeds me poison; I mistake it for comfort food.

Before long I tip over and shatter on the floor. All the while I keep my mouth shut about it, lying in a puddle of generational sewage. How well I have learned that to have my own needs is to be a burden, an inconvenience, an unwanted thing. A wail rising in my throat stays trapped inside for decades. This is the way I have to be to get love–or whatever it is that we call love, but isn’t.

What I do not see then is you right there, gathering every shard, eyes blazing with protective love. What I do not hear are your words of comfort, all your prayers for me like rushing waters. What I do not know is what it means to be held, how to fall into waiting arms.

And if a broken cup could mend itself, I would do it, but that’s a potter’s job. Doesn’t stop me from trying, though I only make it worse. You catch my gaze, and you don’t flinch at me or my deformity.

“May I?” you ask.

A feeble nod.

“Yes.”

You could just discard me; I’d understand. What good is a dirty, broken cup? But you are not looking only at what I am. You see what you made, what you imagined. You refuse to give up on your work.

You reach for another cup, an exquisite gold cup, your favorite. It has always been with you, the only one not formed on your wheel. And you do something awful and strange, plunging it in the fire until it liquefies. Every gorgeous etching wilts and succumbs to staggering heat, until I can’t even recognize it. The pent-up wail escapes. I’ve never cried so hard, to watch the destruction of a perfect thing.

You pick up a piece of me. Wipe it clean. Dip your brush in the melted gold. I tingle at the sensation–soft bristles stroking my jagged edges. The gold becomes the glue holding me together. One jigsaw piece at a time, you are forming me again.

It takes longer than I like, this process. I don’t even like that word, process, and finally I know I’m free to tell you so. See, how I trust you to welcome all my thoughts. Now and then you hold me up to the light and show me all you’re doing. I marvel. This feels just right.

You show me a new place where I fit, in a ragtag collection of broken cups with golden scars. None of us is finished, but each of us is stronger for the gold binding our seams. By these stripes, we are healed.
We are not hidden back in some workroom; you put us on display. Somehow we are more beautiful now–we, the broken and rebuilt. Our golden accents catch the light.

You cradle me and trace a finger along this line and that, a roadmap of where we’ve been. We remember. We reflect. We dream.

You pick up the next broken piece and dip your brush. As you work, I hear you sing:

“You are kintsugi,
the beautiful broken.
These lines tell the story of how
You are whole.”

Katie Minami

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