Mother of Pearl Sutra – 14 Matters of the Heart


Mother of pearl fascinates me.  Forming a topography as idiosyncratic as the ridges in a finger print, crystal aragonite platelets accumulate in layers on the inner surface of mollusks, entombing parasites and cushioning the animal’s soft body.  Micron by micron, the crystals combine their refractive power into a zillion infinitesimally tiny prisms, creating an ever changing iridescence that we see only when the mollusk surrenders to the crack of hungry teeth or knives.  Even the scientific description of the process is poetic.

This dual purpose mechanism, both care-taking and defensive, is so human.  It mimics way we build the inner story we tell about ourselves, seen by others in its infinite refractions, and the way we live with how we love.

When I looked up the synonym “nacre,” one thing led to another, and brought me to this poem by Llorca.

The Faithless Wife

So I took her to the river
believing she was a maiden,
but she already had a husband.
It was on St. James night
and almost as if I was obliged to.
The lanterns went out
and the crickets lighted up.
In the farthest street corners
I touched her sleeping breasts
and they opened to me suddenly
like spikes of hyacinth.
The starch of her petticoat
sounded in my ears
like a piece of silk
rent by ten knives.
Without silver light on their foliage
the trees had grown larger
and a horizon of dogs
barked very far from the river.

Past the blackberries,
the reeds and the hawthorne
underneath her cluster of hair
I made a hollow in the earth
I took off my tie,
she too off her dress.
I, my belt with the revolver,
She, her four bodices.
Nor nard nor mother-o’-pearl
have skin so fine,
nor does glass with silver
shine with such brilliance.
Her thighs slipped away from me
like startled fish,
half full of fire,
half full of cold.
That night I ran
on the best of roads
mounted on a nacre mare
without bridle stirrups.

As a man, I won’t repeat
the things she said to me.
The light of understanding
has made me more discreet.
Smeared with sand and kisses
I took her away from the river.
The swords of the lilies
battled with the air.

I behaved like what I am,
like a proper gypsy.
I gave her a large sewing basket,
of straw-colored satin,
but I did not fall in love
for although she had a husband
she told me she was a maiden
when I took her to the river.


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