The Agate Grinders

De agaatslijpers

Miek Zwamborn
for Sibylle Eimermacher

Translation by Michele Hutchison

Geodes jump up beneath the hammer. The crust the blows must
break through is hard. The blows don’t break.

The grinding wheels turn, the agate grinders lie in pairs on their stomachs
on tilting chairs. They push hard against the wetted abrasive wheel: one leg
crossed over the other, their feet braced in the central aisle.

Sometimes, one of the tilting chairs is unmanned. The torso is not
prepared for this and neither is the agate. A body of stone, a body of
flesh and a body of wood all strain together.

The hollowed out log on three or four legs bears the grinder. Does he
learn to swim above the stone? The tilting chairs lift up the workers.
Their shoulders sink through the wood. They reach blindly for the blocks
of polishing agent on the floor: fine-grained green and red silicon dioxide.

Outside, the geodes are deposited by size. Someone sorts and weighs
the stones. At first sight, just an ugly surface. Only from the weight
can it be inferred that mineralized liquid has been aligned inside.
After cleaving, the saw.

A second geode breaks open. The hammer lies to the side untouched:
somebody has already swept up the splinters. A sock is a solution but
once again there is an element out of place: a stone in a sock, a man
on a buck and a hand pushing against a wheel. The men lie right
in front of the wheels. The image is undecipherable without a caption.

After half an hour of grinding, the gloss is sweetened and the dyes
penetrate the stone. The agate grinders hang perpendicular to the axis of
the water wheel as though seeking shelter. They wear dark woolen coats,
powdered like butterfly’s wings. Only the supervisor has tied on an apron.

The grooves and ridges in the sandstone wheel allow rounded forms to be
created. The original veins are still visible. They were once on their way
to becoming a square but have stalled, become entangled in everything that
has gone before them.

‘Vapours can penetrate each other’, Caillois says, ‘lines can
weave and dodge’. The stone is now where the coal stove used to be.
The grinder turns the agate.

Agate bullet, eye agate, lunar agate, milk agate, smoky agate, cloudy agate,
ocean wave agate, banded agate, fortification agate, lumpy agate.

Geodes are often empty. The reflection comes unexpectedly, it is both
concave and convex. Smoke is blown into the room; wisps climb the walls.
The fluids move effortlessly, like mudslides startling cities after prolonged
rainfall. Everything is swept away and flooded.

The room is flooded, the agate blocks access, it lies in the immersion bath,
is smooth in appearance: a monument of domestic stone surrounded by
a floor of water, the grinder’s hand, a doorway, a broken wall and a hole
that provides a view.

In the middle of the workshop, a large agate, as shiny as a floor. The agate
grinders talking with hoarse voices. They polish the shrinking bubbles and
glassy trails. Dust has collected in their lungs.

The wear and tear is minimal. The porosity can vary from band to band,
it is permeable. Lines chase each other. Stripes follow the silhouette.
A mineralized, fluid. Each new layer is genius, ingeniously derivative,
a word that is whispered, so that it ends up on the other side of
the room with a slightly different meaning. These are just five steps.

While the echo still hangs in the workshop, the original attempts to
remain recognizable. Empty and white, an airy prism, an opaque variety
of stone viewed through stone: a system of parallel lines where the lines
bend at every turn. No crystals due to lack of symmetry.

The agate waits in splendor, a gleaming behemoth. A pedestal wrapped
in cooling rags carries its weight. The grinding dust blows out through
the window. One can still clearly make out the external lines.