I started a class in throwing pots tonight. It was fun, but such a different kind of clay than I am used to after three years of mudding our house. I’m use to the loose, wet, straw-filled slippery clay that slops onto a wall and sticks there with just a little bit of massaging—rainbow pattern is what the old pueblo Indian women used. That way when it rains the water runs off in little arches from the surface of the wall.
I used to dream about being a pueblo Indian woman climbing a ladder and crawling into a cave-like space with floors covered with warm furs or cloth, my babies asleep in the corner. I used to dream about filling a patterned pot with grains for the winter that would sustain life for myself and my family. I can still smell the dust of the desert; feel the clay hot beneath my bare feet. I hear drums across the village and know the time to gather has come. I smell the smoke of a dozen cook fires all around me, the scent mixing with the delicate odor of stew and roots and whatever else has been gathered from around me.
One time I went to Chaco Canyon and I could feel the spirits of the people all around me. They were still singing although their bodies had dissipated a thousand years ago.
Another time I went to Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwelling, Mesa Verde in the Four Corners area, and the Aztec Ruins. Once we found a ruin alone out in a vast expanse of land that had been abandoned and forgotten and not turned into a tourist trap. I liked that one best. I turned it into a scene in one of my novels. I found pale dust colored pottery shards there with thin black lines on them.
Now that I think about it, these pueblo dwellers, these cliff builders have shown up in many of the scenes in my novels. How old can a memory be? Can there be memories floating like cirrus clouds through the mind that have nothing to do with the here and now? And can we feel like those memories have more to do with our lives that the memory of the Alphabet Soup we liked as a child in growing up in the middle of a large family in middle America?
You see, this is why I have to get back to writing fiction. It is here that I can grasp at wisps and whispers and give them color and sound and geography and spirit and dance and music and all that life.
Throwing pots on a spinning wheel just doesn’t do the same thing for me. Instead it has just filled me with longing for something else.
Here is scene from Silver where a girl chases her own moving clouds. In this story Silver and Crystal are two sisters who are growing themselves into womanhood without aid of living parents. Crystal is blind and has take to weaving on a loom. Silver, the older of the two, has taken to playing with clay. She has created an entire village. It is one of my favorite stories.
Excerpt from Silver
One day, Silver finished molding her recent dream and sat back to study the scene. It was a miniature diorama of a world far off where people the color of earth and clay lived simple lives in simple earthen houses. At first the people had looked more like clay lumps or rough stones but eventually she’d given them a finer shape and form, adding legs and slender arms, toes and fingers. She liked the village and imagined it existing out there somewhere on the edge of the world—or on the edge of time. Her favorite figure was that of a young mother holding an infant. The woman sat cross-legged on the earth with the little one on her lap. The boy’s arms were raised toward the heavens.
When Silver closed her eyes, she could almost hear the boy’s gleeful laughter and the mother’s playful song. Another figure she liked was that of a young man who seemed never to enter the village but stayed out on the edge along the hillside. She thought him a lonely figure unable, for some reason, to fully engage in the village life. He appeared almost to be hiding behind a large boulder with a flattened surface. In fact when she molded him, she did not bother with legs and lower torso but concentrated on the upper body until he nearly appeared to be part stone, part man.
She named him Josia.
The village sat on a low, crude table Silver had crafted out of rough scrap lumber. Not content with just the few figures she’d created, she began walking the meadow and along her beloved river gathering small stones, twigs, and clumps of grass. Slowly, she added detail to the village and the surrounding landscape for her figures to live in. There were adobe mud huts, a low sloping hillside, villagers walking and cooking and caring for their young. There was even a market street filled with stalls and tables where the villagers sold their wares. Silver had made pots (her first actual pots) no larger than the fingernail on her pinky finger. She imaged the tiny pots filled with honey and herbs, or clotted cream and butter. She’d even taken Crystal’s wispy yarn scraps and end-cuttings and made a weaver’s stall with a tiny figure resembling her sister manning the stall, the loom in her lap no larger than matchsticks. It was a lovely village, a village Silver wished she could one day visit.
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