The Gorgon’s Glass
by M.E. Bronstein
There are people who try to blame Oken’s unhappy demise on the Gorgon, but if you read Oken’s notebooks carefully (and it’s my job to read his notebooks carefully), you know that he was already dying when he first met her. In fact, that is why he sought the Gorgon out; he needed someone to craft his “monument more lasting than bronze” — i.e. a brilliant thing to preserve his memory.
In his notes, Oken often revisits his first meeting with the Gorgon:
. . . Certain denizens of the township nearest to the Gorgon’s workshop attempted to dissuade me from seeking her out. They called her a witch. It is disheartening, though hardly surprising that her style of artistic production would elicit such reactions. I ventured into the Swamp anyway, and rather enjoyed my solitary escapade into the wilderness, until I found myself caught in circles and stumbled across the same lightning-blasted yew, again and again.
Then I heard a silken rustle, and beheld, in frightening proximity, a serpent — it unfurled from a ragged hole in the moss, a faint rainbow iridescence clinging to its scales. I stepped backwards in careless haste and a rock gave way beneath my foot; I fell upon my rear, something tore, and there was the snake, a line of wriggling calligraphy some demonic hand had written into the earth. It came closer and closer, and I realized with horror that my trousers were quite firmly caught upon a bramble. I struggled and cried out —
I could not die in such a manner (so many intelligent medical men had already foretold another end for me, and how impolite to contradict them!).
And then — the artist herself.
A slight creature with flyaway black-and-gray hair and a grimly set jaw. She wore a ragged shawl and a basket across one shoulder.
She stared fixedly at the serpent, then drew closer, careful not to make a sound, to stir any rocks, all the while untying her shawl — which she then tossed so that it fell across the beast. It writhed, confused by the sudden surrounding weight. The Gorgon pounced upon her quarry, bundled her shawl into a knot, and tossed it into the basket lashed across her back.
To think that so wild a creature should be my object! But there are mysteries and powers beyond our understanding that often choose strange receptacles for their dearest secrets.
A snake brought me to the Gorgon, too.
I first met her glass when I was a girl. I’d chase sand fleas through riverside muck, and there was a worming thing, half buried. See-through, like a newborn squid or shrimp, but hard and motionless. Just one fragment of a larger glass serpent.
That happens, sometimes. Although the Gorgon’s workshop in the Swamp rotted long ago, her sculptures still crop up, carried by the river. Like they want to crawl back ashore.
I found the glass snake by stepping on it, and it sliced into the sole of my foot and glittered and I bled and yet it went on drawing my eye through my tears, and my mother had to work to pry it out of me. She sent the piece of sculpture to the Estate.
Perhaps that is why I wound up here, too, over two decades later. Tugged by a rope made of glass.
That said . . . I confess: I used to prefer Oken’s writings about the Gorgon’s work to the work itself. I wished up likenesses between myself and Oken — a natural result, maybe, of transcribing someone’s words and ideas, day after day, so that you almost take them for your own.