PORTRAIT OF A FLORIST IN THE DESERT IN PARTS by Dylan Smith

1

My van broke down on a mountain north of Marfa, so I had it towed back to Santa Fe where a mechanic named Ever repairs transmissions. 

I talk to Ever every day. Every time Ever answers I have to explain to him it’s me—the kid with the tagged-up van. 

My sister lives with an unemployed florist in this complex in the desert. The florist offered to pick me up from Ever’s; to drive me ever deeper into this desert to visit with my sister. 

What a guy. In my portrait of the florist, he will be sitting at my sister’s table in Tucson listening, laughing whenever I call to talk to Ever. 

I like this florist a lot. 

And I like Ever, too. 

2

Searching for meaning in emergency rooms, my sister holds strange hours. 

So I wait for Ever with this florist, mostly, and with his troubled, golden dog called Glove. 

The florist’s benefits are due to end soon and so, with discipline, he enters the desert every day at dawn in search of original arrangements. 

Soon he will be just like everyone else, he says. Desperate for health care and for groceries, and for meaningful work. 

While the florist is away I am to be ever mindful of Glove who—from trauma—is triggered by threats to resources, like water. 

This afternoon the florist returned and set his hat sadly on its living room hook. 

He found no new flowers, he said, then he revealed the vertebrae of something large and grave as a gift for Glove. 

Ever called today to ease me. 

My transmission is in honest hands, he said. 

I ought to trust him and his team, and his archive of parts. 

In my portrait of the florist, Glove will press against the apartment walls, lean and lithe while my sister sleeps. 

3

This complex is nestled in the shadows of isolate mountains of rock. 

It’s got a saltwater pool and tennis courts; rock gardens and a dog park. 

To express his sympathies on my very first night, the florist exposed the engine of his used Toyota Sequoia. 

Inside was the starter he recently replaced, and new ignition coils enveloped new spark plugs someplace deeply within. 

Despite its notable name, though, I found the Toyota to be plainly—even dispiritingly–shaped. 

We’d been drinking green-bottled beers as my sister slept, and everything in the lot was bluely-lit and glistening from lights embedded in the saltwater pool. 

I chose to confess how careless I am about cars.

Which is why my van is always breaking down; why I’m so often islanded like this in the desert. 

As if to agree, the florist gestured into his engine’s function with a flashlight in his teeth. 

In my portrait of the florist, the wide brim of his gardening hat will wave like water in the pool light. 

4

A Georgia O’Keefe print hangs beside the florist’s hat hook in the living room. 

He rolls an evening cigarette, then lights it beneath a mesquite tree in the dog park. 

Mesquite trees exude a black sap that sticks and stinks, he says. 

Through the branches, the florist points toward storm clouds forming on the mountain. 

The storm’s shadows gather and purple like wet stains in the cliffs. This happens every evening here. 

We rely on monsoon season moisture to fight summer fires, the florist explains. After a rain, though, dips in the desert render most roads impassable. 

Glove digs for bones about the mesquite tree roots in the dog park. Holes the florist calls his fountains, they fill with flood waters in the rock gardens too. 

The florist says his favorite O’Keefe motif is quickly becoming bones, not flowers. 

In my portrait of the florist, a blue landscape of holes in bones will hold him like water in the blue desert distance. 

5

While playing a little tennis, the florist and I swap stories about my sister.

The florist’s first story is about how, last Ash Wednesday, my sister had come home with a cross thumbed to her chest. 

She scrubbed at the cross with a soapy sponge usually used for vases, the florist says.  

Nurses and surgeons can’t remove their scrub caps, she explained. Still, though, she fasted; and she requested a makeshift sermon from the emergency room priest. 

Glove has gnawed little tooth-holes into the taped-up handles of our racquets. 

According to the florist, the sea-glass colored tennis courts are to glow in the dark if ever our evening matches go uninterrupted by rain.

I tell him about the sculptural stillness with which my sister used to sit for portraits. 

About how, as children, we lived for a while with Norm, our uncle, who was both a painter and a priest. 

In my portrait of the florist, he will have knelt tenderly before an altar of mirrors and bones and flowers; but the temple pews will be otherwise empty, and there will be no priest. 

6

The florist pays for equine therapy on Sundays, which is therapy in a barn with a horse. 

His therapist’s horse is a white Paint named Paul.

Like a kind of language, Paul presses his neck brand against the florist’s chest. 

In the florist’s portrayal of Paul, the horse is rendered faintly red in the barn’s reflected light. 

Don’t look back, the therapist suggests. Gather yourself center, then press forward—press against whatever is forming next. 

Ever called today, but I missed it. 

The voicemail he left is very muffled. 

Mysterious faults in the fittings, he said. The worst trouble he’s had with a transmission ever. 

In my portrait of the florist, his hands will be gloved on Sundays to protect his dog bite scars from the sun. 

7

Emergencies flood the desert floor like water. 

My sister is rarely home and when she is, she sleeps. 

Ever is never in either. Whenever I call to check, someone new answers. 

The florist is sitting poolside with his breakfast. 

We take our meals outside so as not to trigger Glove. 

I tell the florist about how my van was pure white once; about how, in New York, artists took to tagging it. 

How the first tag read H O L Y in thick black paint. Or how the second was smears of something permanent and red, or how the third read W A S T E in thick black paint and how the fourth read S E R V I C E U R G E N T in blue—which remains my favorite of the tags. 

The florist had lived in the city too. 

He remembers an old man named Leonard who had lived, then died inside his building. 

The florist had loved to watch Leonard paint. 

His paintings were like music, the florist says. Or like horses. Or mountains. 

Leonard’s death taught the florist that words are only elegy to what they signify. 

Flowers, he says, are more direct than words. 

And bones are ever more direct than flowers. 

In my portrait of the florist, he will find meaning as night watchman of a botanical garden in the desert and, rooted and mirrored in the arrangements there—which is all an arrangement ever is, he has said, is a mirroring and rooting—these words will flower with meaning within him forever.


Dylan Smith is apprentice to a woodsman named Art in Olivebridge, NY. Tweets: @dylan_a_smith

Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower

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