Gourd Day

gourdAbout gourds, one thing they say in Blue Ridge is, “It takes a fool to grow a gourd,” and they notice how I always get a good crop. The other thing they say is that you have to hard-cuss gourd seed as you put them in the ground. To get their attention before they’ll even consider coming up. Gourds are stubborn-stubborn. In the mystical poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi gourds are a metaphor for human beings, and their rattling speech. If we make our noises against enclosure long and hard enough, we’ll break out and have some chance to germinate. This is the process: planted in mid-May, a gourd vine becomes a wildly growing thing through July. I have clocked one tendril on a wet and sunny summer afternoon at one and a half inches every two hours. The entire vine grows seven yards a week. Of the kinds I know, one flowers white, opening in the evening, the other yellow, opening in the morning. Where the flowers drop off, fruit nubs appear and swell and streak and fill with rain. In the middle of September you bring these heavy young-uns in and lay them side by side on newspapers on the daybed, where they can rot. When they get good and mildew-black with fur, you take them to the picnic table and wash them in white vinegar, scraping off the scum with your fingernails, leaving designs. After another month they’ll fuzz up again. Take them back to the table with the vinegar and hold and wash and caress them like babies. Then do it again. You’ll have dirty fingernails and hands that smell vinegary and some fine hardshell gourds. People, of course, make marten houses and soup ladles and fancy African instruments out of gourds. Some friends brought me a Balinese penis-sheath that is a long-handled dipper gourd cut off where the handlepart enters the womb cavity. Me, I shake them to loosen the seeds from the clump inside and give them away whole on Gourd Day. Why can’t a person make up a holiday and a way to celebrate it? It is December 17th, around sunset, with the sky deep winter red, that I secretly tie gourds to my friends door knockers and message nails. They call me the gourd fairy. No cards or words go with them. Shelled-in, foolish, and hard to get started, gourds don’t mean anything.

Coleman Barks, Gourd Seed