– for Maria Montoya Martinez, pueblo potter
She concocted the black on black finish. What was she doing here?
Yes, I do think that would look nice on a mahogany coffee table bordered
with rust – excuse me – burnt umber curtains. Very nice.(Very generic,
very you, who I will – no, must – wish a nice day and offer my thanks
for shopping at Pottery Barn®)
She never meant the thanks she offered each customer nor was she mean
in her assessment of their taste in pots – “Vases,” remember
to call the higher priced ones “vases.” And she really did try to remember
to do that and the other dictates needed to be followed in order not to get fired
from this store in this economy. I have fired many single pots more worthy of your
mahogany tables, of more worth than anything in this store. She thought this
only because she knew this to be true.
She watched a woman and a look-a-like daughter step through automatic doors.
She felt the rush of warm air, felt her finger tips trace the moist imaginary coils
of a pot she would she soon be firing, had the pot been real, in the ovens
of San Ildefonso. Of course her pueblo lacked air conditioning. She missed the place
she had always wanted to leave, dismissing its dirt paths to adobe huts and a make-shift
studio as hot as the red New Mexico sun. Did this mother and daughter, both looking as
crisp & cool as the air inside the store, know she had exhibited
at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, that she had become an immediate success,
that she – her pots, her black-on-black pots – had won
great acclaim and made Pueblo de San Ildefonso the place
without which Pottery Barn® would never have been
more than a glint in the mind of a housewife pressing instructional clay into pinch pots
for a community college arts class that would not count toward a degree,
only provide time away from an alcoholic husband, pinch
pots that would be fired and placed first in drawers
and then in boxes for the move out after the kids were grown
and gone to wherever kids go when they can no longer stand
the sounds of liquor and the silence of glazed clay?
Welcome to Pottery Barn. She instinctively placed her hand over her heart,
covering her name tag: “Maria Martinez” hid behind her fingers. She thought
of the horse manure, of the sheep shit she had used to effect the desired finish.
Neither mother nor daughter acknowledged Maria’s words or presence.
Like distant tourists they were already holding a vase up to swatches of fabric
they had brought from home, and Maria was leaning hard toward the heat.
Richard Downing won the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s Poetry Peace Prize, Writecorner Press’s 2010 Editor’s Award, and New Delta Review’s Matt Clark Prize. Publications include Potomac Review, Juked, Dire Elegies, Against Agamemnon: War Poems, and Prime Number. Four Steps Off the Path is a 2010 YellowJacket Press chapbook contest winner.