Postcards from the Mother City
By Catherine Ferguson
My mother and I walk together through the plaza—
On the bandstand, cheerleaders in yellow and blue balance
on each other’s shoulders shouting class slogans.
Mariachi music sways our hips, mingles with smoke through which we glimpse
a stagecoach lumbering through the plaza at the end of Old Santa Fe Trail,
tourists waving through the open carriage windows.
We dance to drums with a man half zebra and half donkey, our legs
strong enough to withstand the change in season, lured by pre-autumn
scent of chile roasting, grilled meat, garlic and onion from the fajitas cart.
In the courtyard of the Palace of the Governors, my mother waits with the settlers
in the shade.
She has ordered a one-leaf iron stem from the mountain man who pounds metal.
Clouds of smoke pour from his forge, blinding us. A man carving the wheels
of a death cart, rotating circles of pine as he chips away slivers of wood,
begins to cough.
The blacksmith’s pretty wife, twirling her red skirt and white ruffled blouse,
offers beaded pouches and moccasins.
Another mountain man shows off animal pelts, their glassy eyes accusing me.
Memory of a blacksmith who darkened my midlife becomes a dream of swaths
of green grass.
My mother and I buy frozen ice cream at the 5 and Dime while we wait,
find space on a plaza bench next to an old man talking to another old man.
Wandering young travelers gather in groups, a boy with dreads plays the guitar
to a mangy dog.
My mother becomes my Grandmother, in love with a plaza in Spain.
I have walked these streets. Still I walk, stare in store windows at turquoise
velvet skirts, bear-claw necklaces, prayer feathers wrapped in yellow
holders stitched with inlaid designs of eagles and pine branches.
We wonder if the pounded leaf is finished.
My mother waits at a table in the shade while I study a book about retablos,
reinventing myself for the millionth time as a lover of this high desert,
with its history of adobe and raindrops soaking into this dry hard ground
that was once a cornfield.
Metal stem in hand, we walk to our car on paving stones ancient as our stories.
When Catherine Ferguson was 15, she traveled by car with her grandmother, Ruth Dickinson, from Phoenix to Santa Fe. They ate lunch at The Shed, then located in Burro Alley. Catherine was surprised that the tortillas were blue. She never forgot the beauty of northern New Mexico. In 1972, Catherine’s mother, Susan Ferguson, took an art class at Ghost Ranch. Catherine visited and never left the area. She lives in Galisteo. Inspired by her love of nature and the Southwestern landscape, animals and trees, she paints watercolors, oils and retablos, reinterpreting this traditional New Mexican art form. She writes poems that express her passion for the life lived on this land. Catherine teaches retablo and watercolor painting. She is the author of eight chapbooks. In 2007, she received the New Mexico Book Award in Poetry for The Sound a Raven Makes, a collection with two other poets, Sawnie Morris and Michelle Holland.