Señora Valerio Lays an Adobe Floor

By Susan J. Erickson

Talking-earth men I call them.
With great stumps of cottonwood,
they tamp the dirt, talk it hard and smooth,
talk it level, so I can begin my work.
The men look into that one-eyed
bubble level and I double-check results
with a handful of tiger-eye marbles
borrowed from my grandchildren.

My daughter brings me the red-rimmed
enamel dishpan full of mud and straw.
The dishpan is identical to the one I used
to bathe my babies. I kneel on the dirt,
knead and spread the mud. My fingers
pluck out pebbles or sticks that would mar
the skin of my floor. Mud again. Again.

When the floor is complete, I ask
for the blessing of Saint Bartholomew,
patron saint of plasterers, and leave
the floor to cure. Cracks happen in life
and with adobe floors. If only the cracks
of life were so easily patched and smoothed.
I brush a thin adobe wash over the surface.
When dry I paint it oxblood red with pigment
from a cave above Taos.

The homeowners will finish the floor
with coats of linseed oil and kerosene
and it will take on the sheen of old
leather. If you walk on such a floor
with bare feet you will feel why I
call my work holy, why I kneel
to lay my floor.

Author’s note: Mrs. Valerio was an adobe floor layer who was introduced briefly in the book A Taos Mosaic: Portrait of a New Mexico Village by Claire Morrill.


About the Author

Susan J. Erickson’s first full-length collection of poems, Lauren Bacall Shares a Limousine, won the Brick Road Poetry Prize. Her poems appear in Crab Creek Review, The James Franco Review, The Fourth River and The Tishman Review. Find her work and more about her at

Georgia O’Keeffe home and studio sitting room, looking south into garden.
Wikimedia Commons