Maryann Corbett – “Depression Glass: Blue Bowl” – A Poem

Southern Legitimacy Statement:

I grew up in McLean, Virginia, before there was a Beltway to provide a line of demarcation between Those Government People and Real Virginians. I further qualified myself by going to college at William and Mary, where my classmates had Southern accents and there were actual magnolias trees and crape myrtle bushes on campus. You mustn’t hold it against me that I moved to Minnesota for graduate school and ended up staying here, where my thin Southern blood freezes every January.

Depression Glass: Blue Bowl

The collector discusses an appraisal.

Honey, I’m scared she’ll give the thing away
to Goodwill, or the parish rummage sale.
That bowl’s worth money. Check Kovel or Yeske
or google “Hazel Atlas mixing bowl.”
A shapely pattern, and it’s in good shape—
no scratches. Cobalt blue, those graceful flutes
on the sides, and at the rim, that rounded lip.
Pretty enough for Sunday dinner use.
You haven’t seen it, no. She stores it high,
shoved back and out of sight.

Those are the clues
that tell you, Ease in carefully with her.
Don’t stomp around in Fifties stereotypes,
perky Formica, loud Fiestaware,
Norman Rockwell advertising hype.
You’ll use those when you’re getting set to sell.
Lighting, displaying. Acquisition sense—
the buying part—that wants a quieter skill.
You learn to see things through the owner’s lens.
You focus on the damage.

And those dinners
were damage, from the way I’ve heard her tell
bits of the history. The damaged part
was her dad, though all we saw was his solid side.
Big talker; always kidding; open hearted.
No notion what it might be like to hide
a thought once in his head. No sort of art
in measuring his words. In his own home
the scars showed, though. People do come back scarred
from war. He came back scarred and loud. He’d shame
them all sometimes, with so much bluster and wind.
Calling her mother moron, at the table,
in front of little daughters—that’s a sin.
He’s dead ten years; she’s still combustible.

And there it was, that bowl, there with the meat,
there with the salad, there with the mouths held tense,
the teeth on edge with the acid bite of what
his demons poured on them, poor innocents.
A mystery she even took it with her,
of all the things her mother had to lose,
teeth gritted, when they put her into care.
It surely wasn’t a question of its price.
They gave those out, in the Thirties. Come-on deals
to get you into a store or movie theater.
Even in cereal boxes, the smaller wares.
“Depression glass.” Imagine it: her mother,
using that gimcrack thing for sixty years,
remembering how a speechless misery feels.
A kind of sore the mind keeps picking at.
I think she’s kept a lot of things like that.

And see, the mother’s still around. That’s why
she hasn’t sold it yet to an antique store.
I’ve often told her that would be a mercy.
Honey, it would. That’s what collecting’s for.
Restoring things. We clear the clouds away
so people see good things for what they are.
Sure, I have lots, and milk and carnival glass.
Look here, in Warman’s field guide—all the brands.
Watch the obits. Then, when her mother passes,
call her. She’ll let you take it off her hands.