birthday party falls on The Feast Day of the Beheading of St. John
the Baptist,” she says, laughing then pushing her yellow-gray
front tooth in and out with her tongue, making a slight clicking
sound. Slowly, gently she rolls wads of dry Prince Albert tobacco
into an almost translucent Rizla paper, like bundling an infant into
a soft warm blanket. Such
care for something so habitual and ordinary;
a lacy white baptismal gown for dried plant matter.
I want to reach over and help her, hurry her diligent
lift my coffee cup from the small patio table which tips
toward her. Milk froth
must have stuck on my lip, because she motions with one of her veiny
hands to her own lip. I
lick it off. I set the cup back down on the table, and like a seesaw with
the added weight it settles back toward me.
I wonder at her slow, meticulous rolling, and the secret
enjoyment in her eyes at the idea of St. John loosing his head on
the day of my party. Had
she not mentioned it, I would not anticipate him.
Now, on top of fading into another year with more premature
gray hair, I will be sure to hear him all that day.
He will be tiptoeing one step behind me, hiding in doorways
as I glance back, then showing up at the party, mingling with the
headed guests who are at a total loss for words.
is hot in the mid-morning New Mexico sun.
Out on the streets, the heat is blazing off the adobe walls
and the black asphalt, the whole town looking like a mirage. Funny
that it never disappears, even when you switch angles or get nearer
to it. You just become
filmy like children’s bubble liquid.
Then the hype, the marketing and the
“atmosphere” blow until you are round, floaty and a
momentary part of the illusion.
The cafe patio is under the shade of a trellis thick with
leafy vines, itself snuggled under a tall and slender cottonwood
which stands like a grandmother with her shawl spread to shade us.
The patio is cool, and the small dirt alleyway quiet.
A slight breeze shuffles the leaves, and blows out her match.
Strands of her long gray hair blow into her eyes like naughty
ghosts. It is the kind
of hair that birds love to gather for their nests.
walking briskly up the alley is a stout man, in his early forties,
wearing a tan trench-coat and what appear to be combat boots. His walk is hurried and intent, and his head would appear
jutted forward, only he has no head.
He passes the patio and opens the turquoise door to the
bookstore that is across the alley. The sleigh bells on the door
jingle as he shuts it behind him.
The breeze delivers the scent of gardenias and garlic upon
its airy fingers.
really believe in Saints?” I inquire, as I get up quickly from the
table. I cross the
alley and pretend to look at a patch of giant Hollyhocks growing in
a crack of cement in front of the bookstore window. She is too
immersed in lighting her cigarette to hear, or if she does, feels it
is optional to answer. I
peer through the enormous stalks and see that inside, the
beheaded St. John is browsing with the other customers.
Satiny petals brush against my cheek and I get the idea to
collect some of the Hollyhock seeds and plant them in my own garden
at home. The seeds are
plentiful, hundreds in one round pod, and hundreds of pods on the
six foot stalks. There
is nothing extraordinary about the flowers but that they grow where
no other plant will dare. Poor,
dry soil make them proliferate, and like true ascetics, they delight
in the absence of pleasure. Their
display is so simple and it hides no mysteries.
There are the tight buds, the open blossoms flushed and thick
with pollen, and then the wilt and decay of the wadded brown petals.
And finally the seeds nestled in their pods.
What does it mean?” I ask her.
The words muffle into an open red blossom that I am examining
the Feast Day!”
I don’t know,” she says, leafy green eyes on her cigarette the
whole time. She exhales
dramatically and her words are carried like smoke signals in the
air. “Mine always
falls on The Feast Day of The Sacred Heart of Jesus,”
she adds, as if this is an obvious point that needs no
further explanation. Gingerly
she picks at the variety of stray things that have gathered in her
lap; scraps of tobacco, granules of sugar, even vagrant leaves.
Heart,” I say, fingering the seed pods, now grabbing and pulling
them off the jostled and swaying stalks.
Pulling and grabbing, stuffing the pockets of my blazer with
them, imagining them in full bloom along the rusty wire fence of my
garden. I notice St.
John again, right on the other side of the window.
He is pretending to look at a book on Georgia O’Keefe,
without his head of course, and holds the book open in his palms
like it is a bible and he might be administering mass to the crowds.
I hate Santa Fe!” I
say, loud enough so that two tourists, enamored by the Wild West as
only tourists can be, look disapprovingly as they enter the
bookstore. “They act like I am stealing something,”
I complain, “it’s just weed seeds after all.”
she asks. Of course she
wouldn’t know. She
doesn’t pay attention to anything but what is in front of her
directly; a rolled cigarette, a cup of coffee.
Even across the small alley, only 100 feet away, I could be
across the Grand Canyon to her.
She doesn’t notice that St. John has decided to purchase
the book. He is
presenting it to the poor gawking clerk, who doesn’t remember this
situation from customer service training.
it’s like an allusion to a Zen Koan.
‘No mind is all mind,’ or ‘The head is not ahead” I
say, giggling silently about my pun.
I walk back to the table and sit down, carefully, so that I
won’t bump it off balance. It
tips toward her anyway.
she says very seriously. She clasps her hands in front of her chest
as if to pray or emphasize her point.
For a long moment she eyes the labyrinth trail of vines above
us, as if they understand something that I don’t.
“It wouldn’t be that obvious.
We won’t know until the actual day arrives and then we’ll
see what turns up. How can we know?” she asks.
it is so obvious. How
can we know anything except that we are sipping coffee on the patio
of the cafe? St. John
is by the Hollyhocks admiring them, or at least has his body turned
toward them. His
purchase is in a brown paper sack tucked under his arm.
He starts to pluck at the stalks, just as I had done,
collecting the seed pods and putting them in his coat.
He turns toward us suddenly, as if waiting.
With his free hand he is fingering the rough seeds that are
falling now, out of the pods and into the silky lining of his
more is there to know beyond the contents of a seed?” she inquires. Bud,
blossom, death These
everyday emotions, thoughts and activities are just days of sun,
rain and photosynthesis, ending always in exactly the same place:
Seeds in the pockets of the living and the Saints.
Podunovich is a conglomeration of small particles of light that
came together through specific strands of genetic coding and DNA,
creating a complex chemical combination that, at 5:01 am on March
28, 1969 was charged by the unique pattern of the cosmos at that
time. Indeed, she will continue to burn off the karmic patterns of
these influences until she disperses back into the vast ocean of
the unmanifest life force from whence she came.