Ceramics

I head to the workshop of Oaxacan master ceramicist Vicente Hernandez. He has a large workspace and six dogs that are jealous because we are taking the master’s attention.
He shows us how he cleans the clay, throws it in a roll to get all of the air out, turns it into a cup or a bowl, dries it, glazes it, fires it in his gas oven, designs it–etching with a nail, glazes it, and cooks it again.
The dogs are relentless though his children try to calm them. They bark and sniff and lick and poke and bark and bark and lick some more.
I think I am not a dog person, and I am incapable of running the potting wheel, but I can listen (even above the barking) and celebrate the birth of cup after cup. In the hour-long session, a man pulls more than nineteen teacups from the block he is working on. He seems to be in his own world, but he says salud twice after each of my sneezes.
The showroom is up the road, closer to the main highway, in a two-story house that is mostly empty.
I find a two couples of shot glasses I like (copitas), and I am determined that I will transport them back home whole and without tears.
One of the daughters packs the copitas into a bag with the business name: Tierra Quemada, scorched earth. I recognize it as a shop off the pedestrian walkway, on Abasolo. According to the maestro, his interests vary. I may be able to see more of his intricate designs.
  • Ekphrastic means writing about art. Including, I wonder, the art of creating art? Kay Ryan, former US Poet Laureate, reflects on Ekphrasis here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2006/12/journal-day-two-56d34c8126d79. Ryan writes about the challenges of chasing after reality with a butterfly net: “I have always been uncomfortable describing what already exists. Existing things are just too hot, too self-radiant. My words get soft and gluey if I try to mold them into a facsimile of something. If I were a sculptor, it would be as if I were forced to work with clay that clung to my fingers instead sticking to my projected dog sculpture.” Be a lepidopterist.

Spanish Class

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My Spanish teacher asks me which–of the five poems I have drafted from random prompts in Spanish in two hours–I like the most. And I am startled a moment at the suggestion that this is any way to write poetry.
Then I just answer.
Trust the process, Heather.
 
I embrace the process and offer: the one about the random green long-sleeve shirt, the one you limited to twenty-five words, I am going to refine it to be twenty-eight syllables. I am going to consider it as William Carlos Williams considered “The Red Wheelbarrow”– at least how I assume he did. And though I can hardly remember Williams’s name and though it does not matter that I recall his name, I am delighted I recall wheelbarrow from the last lesson: cartilla, but I still do not know long sleeves.
The one that started with eight rhyming words will instantly ravel in English. And, the ending needs work. The love letter to the cane is playful but too silly. The hate letter to a spoon has potential, but it needs much more work.
And the acrostic to the frying pan just made me think of pecan pie in a cast iron skillet. It and pineapple upside-down cake are two flavors you have never tasted. But you must.
We spend some time discussing how upside down means on its head, but to describe a cake on its head might make it sound also as if it is made of head or brains and could have the double meaning of being a cannibal’s favorite dessert. Thus, I write about bourbon and brown sugar pecan pie.
Five starts, five different little cupboards she welcomed me to draw ingredients from, five little fires that may someday be stars.
  • Speaking of five new pieces, here are five short stories by Carol Shields to read with brief descriptions of why you should know her work: https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/canada/articles/5-short-stories-by-carol-shields-you-should-read/ I think of the artist embroidering the plaza outside the cathedral on the square in Oaxaca as the blogger describes Shields’s work: “focusing on the everyday interactions and moments of ordinary lives.”

A Pillowy Warm Secret

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I used to be able to say that I dislike most bakery items in Oaxaca. I dislike the besos, the bigotes, the roscas, the ferrocarrils, the conchas, the donas, and especially the (sub Saharan) bisquits, and (Mojave) panques for these bakers too often seen to fail to distinguish between sugar and sand.
But ever the willing sampler of regional delicacies, I tried what appeared to be a dinner roll dusted in powdered sugar. It was carved open on top and filled with custard. Real, ambrosial custard. It was like biting into a pillowy warm secret that sparks joy. Oh, I think, this is how sweets should be done!
I paid 30 pesos for five things that were awful (although quite beautiful) and this toothsome surprise of a dinner roll.
I will give the bag of leftovers to the child whose father plays the accordion all day under the mango tree. He too can sample the sweets and decide which ones are delicious, which ones are for the fat birds.
  • Pablo Neruda writes odes to common things, including bread. Write an ode to an everyday item.
from Ode to Bread
–Pablo Neruda
Bread,
you rise
from flour,
water
and fire.
Dense or light,
flattened or round,
you duplicate
the mother’s
rounded womb,
and earth’s
twice-yearly
swelling.
How simple
you are, bread,
and how profound!
You line up
on the baker’s
powdered trays
like silverware or plates
or pieces of paper
and suddenly
life washes
over you,
there’s the joining of seed
and fire,
and you’re growing, growing
all at once
like
hips, mouths, breasts,
mounds of earth,
or people’s lives.
The temperature rises, you’re overwhelmed
by fullness, the roar
of fertility,
and suddenly
your golden color is fixed.
And when your little wombs
were seeded,
a brown scar
laid its burn the length
of your two halves’
toasted
juncture.
Now,
whole,
you are
mankind’s energy,
a miracle often admired,
the will to live itself.

(from http://www.abuddhistlibrary.com/Buddhism/H%20-%20World%20Religions%20and%20Poetry/Poetry/Pablo%20Neruda/Ode%20to%20Bread/Ode%20to%20bread,%20Pablo%20Neruda.htm)

Art Show

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Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.
I knew nothing of the artist. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock youth are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son, unimpressed, asks: and the truck?
An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I can not hear him though my ears open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that the entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Speaking of titles, take a look at “Famous Book Titles That Took Their Titles From Poetry:” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2012/03/famous-book-titles-took-their-famous-book-titles-from-poetry

A Month Off

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You take a month off from your real life, every summer, to just think, walk, eat, see, sleep. It’s simple, and here you are simple with your small grasp of the language and culture, with your wonder at the world surrounding you.
Though you are alone and have no one to take care of you, this is the closest you will be able to get to your childhood, to carefree afternoons spent in a park chasing pigeons to singing into the wind from the bed of a rickety pickup truck.
Back home, lists of chores await your return, and you know, for now, they can wait, so you refuse their entrance to this wonderland though some nights they return as insistent nightmares causing your jaw to ache, reminding you you are still an adult.
Sometimes you know you need more than a month of simplicity and make lists, like recipes, to retain or regain this peacefulness.
But in reality this leisure, this luxury of time and reflection, is unrealistic, is rapidly ground down by impatience and the demands of adulthood.
This morning I promise to savor the month, to prevent preoccupation with priorities, and to lounge in the luxurious mornings as if there’s nothing left to be done in this life.
From Morning
–Billy Collins
Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—

Finding the Saint of Finding Things

 

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In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html

I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.

C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.

It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.

The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.

He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.

C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.

The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.

Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.

I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.

I’m in the Art Show

Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.

I knew nothing of the artist, Sigmar Polke. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock young man are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the young punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the Saturday intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son asks: and the truck?
I am walking along the pedestrian corridor planning what I will say to the woman at the bakery as I request a sandwich. I walk and negotiate with myself, and then I am interrupted. An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I cannot hear him though my ears are open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that my entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?