Red Barn in Wheatfield
—Georgia O’Keeffe [Sun Prairie, WI; early 1892]
The drays were kept out in the heat
all day. And so were we. My cheek pressed
to coats gone dark with sweat,
watching their sides twitch, rippling curtains
of flies. It was the closest I got then to seeing
the sea. I licked salt from my lips
as though fresh from the water, but nothing
was better beneath bare feet
than horse-shadowed earth
nestled with pine needles. Air so thick
with dust I wanted to lie down in it,
to wrap it round me like a cloak
and walk the fields gone tall
with summer, grasshoppers
popping at my steps like oil on a flame.
My sisters hid in the creamery, cooled
by ice cut from ponds in winter, playing
Handy Andy Over among the milk cans.
Beside the high hedge, I was happy.
I shimmied into the drive’s loose gravel,
ran fingers through the buggy-cut ridges
until I couldn’t help but turn
pebbles on my tongue. Burr of silt. Their shapes
still bloom behind my tight shut teeth.
Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot)
—Georgia O’Keeffe to her friends Anita Pollitzer [Columbia, SC, to New York, NY; 1915]
In the pines, we found a house,
deserted and crawling
with roses. I came back alone—
a night when the moon made
even the underbrush shine.
Close-grown trees chirred
in the breeze. I locked the door,
tacked up the paintings
I’d carted from New York
and stared until each
spoke like the teacher
I could see I’d painted it for—
a weak-penciled arm lopped
at the shoulder; Art Nouveau
Virginia lawn; dusky dead rabbit
beside a tarnished red pot—
each painting’s tone more
strident than the last, speaking
in every voice but my own.
Anita, I will have to start over.
No. 8—Special (Palo Duro Canyon with Spiral)
—Georgia O’Keeffe [Canyon, TX; 1917]
After the parceled horizons of Manhattan,
Texas plains are a glassy eternity
laminated by sky. Trapped
between them, I am a too-diluted pigment,
going transparent at the edges.
Which makes Palo Duro a deliverance.
At its rim, I am a sail,
arms outstretched, ready to crow
over the canyon, dive down into it.
But the only paths in are cañadas,
steep and rocky, forged and rutted
by hoof prints. Straggles of cattle
watch from above, lines of black lace
against the blanched day. By night,
that thrill is still with me. I stand
with brush to the tight-wefted board
while the cows, now penned,
low for their calves
rhythmic as a Penitente song.