NaPoWriMo #10 – Wonderful Ed’s Blood-Red Cardinal

 

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Easter Sunday I lay in bed and watch

helpless as

A fresh blanket of snow covers Spring’s progress

White

White

White

 

I scan my bedroom for the brightest thing

The blood-red breast of a cardinal

Perched on the top closet shelf

Carved from scrap wood

In the ramshackle backyard workshop

of Wonderful Ed

 

— 

 

Last summer we can still fly 

South like birds and we do

The whole family

A rented car 

An unexplored suburb of 

Old town Santa Fe

 

Nothing but a hand-painted sign

Confirms we have arrived

Nobody greets us

Even though we have called ahead

We are strangers 

Beginning to feel like intruders

 

In New Mexico, we have climbed a waterfall

Slipped down its current

Driven the sagebrush hills of Abiquiu to Ghost Ranch

Then back on lightless white-knuckle roads

Blurred by rain and wind

We have been brave

Until our visit to Ed Larson

 

Having come so far – 

2000 miles to Santa Fe and 2000 more to this driveway –

We disembark

Tiptoe into an empty backyard studio, 

Calling out ‘hello’ to the silence

 

I have visited Ed on Canyon Road

His folk-art enchantment of a horse-barn 

His roots and wings for 30 years

He would bring out some new creation every day

To hear his neighbours say “that’s wonderful, Ed”

And it was

Until the weight of art-world rents became unbearable 

 

Ed packed up and moved his studio home

By appointment only

So I have called 

 

This new studio is a faded reproduction 

Supplies scattered about – more a tinkerer’s workshop than a gallery

A tinny radio blares

Out into the unkempt yard

Fading sculptures

A wooden alligator

A saddle

Marking the path towards the front porch of a private home

 

We take the path 

More sculptures guard the front door

A flock of common birds 

Rough-hewn by Ed’s chisels

Legs of bent coat hangers

Wings cut from pop cans

 

We decide against knocking and turn to leave

When Ed’s wife Bonnie comes out with the trash

 

We ignore or forgot any misunderstanding as

She calls Ed to the door and tells him we’ve come for a tour

 

Ed leads us back 

Into the yard, through the brush

Into buildings we’ve missed, 

Filled with dozens of paintings

Chronicling dozens of years

His friend who’d won a National Endowment for the Arts

A red-headed cowboy troubadour

His wild years as a sailor

The boys on the canvas still pulling on their navy pants 

Topless women shouting after them

 

My wife, my teenaged kids and I 

Listen as 87-year-old Ed

Stumbles over memories triggered by 

A lifetime of artwork

A glorious, colourful past

 

Our tour ends with iced tea and cookies

Prepared by Bonnie

We all sit in their living room 

Surrounded by canvases and carvings 

A floor lamp made from rifles

 

When the time comes to leave we know

We can’t go empty-handed

So we ask about the birds

How much?

Ed says’ twenty and Bonnie corrects him

Forty.

 

She is kind, to be sure

She gives my daughter a beaded bracelet 

Made in Mexico by

Women she has given years of her heart to serve

She is kind but practical

Keeper of accounts

Anchor

Sober morning

The partner every dreamer needs

 

We deliberate 

The cardinal is the obvious choice

Brazen red and the favourite bird of my wife’s grandma

But a more humble brown bird calls out

We ask Ed what kind of bird it is

And he consults a little guidebook where

It turns out

All of these birds came from

 

We buy the brown bird

Weave our goodbyes with thank yous and hopes to return

And walk out the front door 

Back into reality

 

But not before

 

Ed scurries out after us

Holding a secret in his hands

The cardinal cupped so gently it might be breathing

Ed gives it to us

Whispers thank you

And go quickly

 

 

It seems likely, this cold Easter morning, 

We may never return

And if we do the Larsons may not be there

88 is old

Even for a folk-artist

 

I lay in bed and watch

helpless as

A fresh blanket of snow covers Spring’s progress

White

White

White

 

I scan my bedroom for the brightest thing

The blood-red breast of a cardinal

  

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