Tuesday, July 26, 2011

clay birds.

when i was in honduras, a couple other women and i joined a mi esperanza founder on a short road trip to a pottery co-op on the el salvador border to restock the pottery we sell in our store.

the pottery is made from natural clay derived from the banks of a nearby river and fired in clay stoves behind its makers houses. the co-op with which mi esperanza partners is comprised solely of women. i spent the day getting to know them. they are golden.
although i had not previously seen its place of origin, i've been viewing/purchasing the pottery ever since i began work with mi esperanza, so i knew which pieces we needed.

as i sifted through a floor full of pottery, searching for the bowls and cups and vases we typically carry, i saw a different piece i'd never seen. it was a small bird with a rounded head and a sloping neck that widened and shallowed into a triangular body. it sat a cool smooth weight in my palm and stared peacefully from two dotted eyes on either side of its rounded head that preceded a barely protruding beak. it was striped with off-white lines that swirled down its neck and around its body and across its back.
a honduran woman had artfully drawn each of the swirls with her hands. the bird was one of a kind. there never had been, nor would there ever be, another like it.
I looked at the bird and smiled. I would absolutely be taking one home.

When we'd gathered all we were planning to buy, the stocky Honduran woman in charge of the business smiled warmly, lifting her forearm to wipe the shine from her brow before beginning to count our number of pieces.

While we waited, the girls and I made our way behind the house, startling black speckled hens with our steps. The ground below was dusty and rough with rocks and twisted roots; but the dust, as if pouring itself forth into regeneration, led into lushness upon lushness. First was green grass, followed by dew-dripping crop rows from which black tree trunks rose, the fullness of their green leaves like an open curtain. The leaves gave way to rising grey mountains which stood in untouchable friendship, as if they protected the lenca potters and their houses and the woman and child across the street scrubbing clothes on a washboard.

I breathed a moment and looked, then stepped to shed on the left. The floor was smooth concrete. The roof overhead was held up by four posts, the walls open. Aside from a small path that'd been cleared, piles and tubs full of yet-to-be finished pottery lined the shed floors. There were thousands of pieces, all of them light, wet looking grey.

I came to a yellow tub and leaned forward to see inside. The bottom was filled with birds like the one I'd held moments before, none of them with vibrant designs, but identically empty-eyed, each of them the same, murky grey as the pieces surrounding.

The birds stared blankly from their sides. To look at them was to lose sight of what they were, to understand them as a pointed pile of grey inside a plastic yellow circle. If not for remembering their future as polished cordovan individuals with designs of hand-drawn ivory, to look at them would be a minor heartbreak.

I considered the vastness of difference between the finished birds. No two were alike, but all were equally beautiful.

I considered the facelessness of the birds at my feet, and I remembered the dull monotony with which I lived each day in my disorder. I wanted to make myself exquisite and unique and beautifully alone; i wanted to be special and unordinary and above; but my very attempt at redemption reduced me to a diagnoses, a single number out of nearly 10 million females in my country alone who were waking up and thinking the very same thoughts. I stripped myself of me. I was empty-eyed and grey, a clay bird in a pile of identicals.
When for a moment, I understood what I'd done, understood what I was missing, and stepped into the fear, it was as if a kind Honduran women in dirty, black Mary janes and once-white apron reached into the tub and pulled me out. She dusted me off and rinsed me in water. She painted me with stripes and swirls and shapes- a design no other bird would ever have. She made me beautiful.

But to set the designs would require a time of firing inside the hot kiln behind her house. Once emerged from the flames, the designs would no longer be painted, they would be an irremovable part of me forever.

In many ways, recovery is like a hot kiln. It is uncomfortable and sweaty and sometimes it burns. But recovery, if maintained, will make each of us the person we are- the person we thought we would find in the grey.


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