Harrison Candelaria Fletcher
“Every parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion a hint of the resurrection.”
My mother took a snapshot of our living room in the ‘60s: Gray curtains. Gray vinyl easy chair. Gray davenport with square cushions. White walls. White lampshade covered in plastic. Silver ashtray. Polished hardwood floors. A reflection of her life in the seven years she knew my father. After he died, she rearranged our home completely. The walls were never bare again.
She saw the stones in a roadside arroyo, round and flat, embedded like seeds in the Algodones sand. She filled our car trunk until the axle groaned and emptied her wheelbarrow onto the backyard grass. A wishing well, my mother said. She’d make a wishing well.
Her grandparents had a cistern on their Corrales ranch. Each morning she lowered a bucket into the bottomless hole. Rope slid through her fingers. Water dribbled away like pearls.
When she called into the depths, a voice answered.
Bones. Dug from the badlands west of Albuquerque. Pitched onto our roof to bleach in the summer sun. Cow skulls. Horse jaws. Elk antlers. Deer horns. Wired to the vigas, placed beside the church bench, scattered among the choya. Blooming from the shadows, white as lilies.
“Know what this is?” my mother would ask, leading me as a boy through the sand of the Rio Grande. “This is a scraper. And this a bird point. You can tell by the chipped edges.”
“No. That’s just a rock. Look closer. What do you see?”
Each evening, she wound an antique clock, a tabletop cathedral of walnut and glass, its face a harvest moon. She inserted a key beneath the seven and turned, whispering the count, until the spring strained, the gears clicked, and the pendulum swung on its horsehair tether.
On the hour, a silver bell.
My mother found the rocker in a second-hand shop in Alameda, pushed into the shadows, as arthritic as her grandmother’s knees. Back on our porch, surrounded by C-clamps and glue, she reset the arms, legs, back and seat, and once the varnish dried, placed the chair in our living room. Leaning back, she closed her eyes, raised her feet, and smiled as if riding a swing.
On winter mornings she sprinkled piñon incense over our living room floor furnace, conjuring the warmth of the ranch house kitchen. She straddled the grate with her slippers, nightgown swelling with heat, as sparks swirled around her, bright as fireflies.
As a girl my mother watched her grandfather make nails in his cocharra, clipping iron rods, filing shiny tips, filling one coffee can after another, never sure he had enough.
As a woman, she gathered nails from abandoned barns and fallen fence posts, and displayed them against white walls to accentuate the form, bent by burden, shaped by weight.
“Do you know what this is?”
“Yes. What else?”
“A loop? From a fence post?”
“From a gate. You lift it to get inside. It’s a key.”
My mother placed the water bowl atop the pottery case as the centerpiece of her artifact collection. Big as a melon, shaped from river clay, it balanced once on the heads of Zuni woman, and bore the painted image of a roadrunner, symbol of swiftness, standing in a labyrinth of black and white. On the afternoon it fell, shards like shrapnel, my mother, on hands and knees, recovered every piece, and under the white dining room light, filled the hairline cracks.
She scattered her mother’s violet seeds beneath our front yard pines where she hoped they would thrive in the half sunlight-half shade. The following spring, as her mother’s birthday approached, the old woman appeared in her dreams, standing among the blossoms.
In the periwinkle and poppies of her flowerbed, she found a fallen hummingbird’s nest. At the end of a branch. Inside the nest, a dead hatchling, as delicate as spun glass. With both hands she placed the branch atop her pottery case, beside a rosary, a river stone, and a silver ashtray.
My mother would drive with her father through the badlands of his childhood. On the roadside, he once spotted a pine-pole ladder half-buried in sand. Together, they lifted the broken frame into his pickup, then leaned it against the eastern wall of our house, facing the sunrise.
“There’s a root. Beneath the chamisa bush.”
“Not at all. See the color? Blue-black. Like a cottonwood at night. And the shape? Like grape vines. Or a strand of barbed wire….”
“Or the veins of a heart.”
“Exactly. Now put it in your pocket. So you’ll remember.”
Returning home from the badlands, my mother stopped at Jemez Pueblo to rest. She met a man who sat apart from the other vendors on the plaza with his work displayed before him on a blanket: rattles of squash and pumpkin shaped into the eagles and rabbits he saw in dreams.
“Beautiful,” she told him. “So expressive.”
He studied her face. “Take one. As a gift.”
My mother chose a long teardrop gourd with a curled tail at one end and moonstone eyes at the other, painted with black, white, and rust-red feathers.
The old man smiled. “The flying serpent. Symbol of water, wind, rebirth.”
Harrison Candelaria Fletcher is the author of “Descanso For My Father: Fragments Of A Life.” His award-winning essays have appeared in New Letters, Fourth Genre, and The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction. He teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University’s MFA in Writing Program.