Sometimes the throwing works

and the clays are subdued

into an almost pleasant shape.

Even the glazes eventually obey my command.

It’s the painting that fails (that great art one sees

on Ming bowls). For I’m really clumsy,

an oaf with thumbs, a producer

of lines that are thick, irregularly irregular. Then the glaze drips

down, like a weary eyelid, denigrating whatever bright efforts

I had imagined: covering cows

that now looks like dogs, which are baying at a moon

that is similarly submerged beneath a purple sheen.

In this class, at the New Jersey Center for the Arts,

where I am supposed to be learning how to pot,

the instructor really tries.

He tries to ignore this mess that I’m making.

It is as if he has positioned a camera obscura

between himself and my incompetence

in order to still the anxiety he must feel about it.

But sometimes he can’t stand it any more,

and he comes over, needs to help to allay that feeling.

One touch. That’s all it takes; and in an instant

there’s a bowl where before there wasn’t.

It is like I was mangling his cousin.

I don’t really want him to do it, to help,

to redirect my pedestrian efforts;

but he is so into clay

that it gives him the heebie-jeebies

to see it out of shape; so I let him

do what he can do, without even thinking, and I say, “Thank you, Tom,”

and he says, “There, you’ve saved it.”,

and I really think

that that’s what he thinks.

But then I go mess it up anyway

when I try to paint

another cow with the glaze.