The Passion Of Georgia O’Keeffe


How bright the light! Baby sits on pillows,
white and black quilt with flowers and stars.
Dust sparkles warm and soft–I want to eat it
but Mama snatches and squeezes me hard.

I'm going to be an artist, make something beautiful
as the Maid of Athens in Mama’s book
or the Arabs on horseback in Grandmother's parlor.
An artist can do as she pleases, no one minds.

Have drawn a man tumbling over, am painting
a lighthouse in clouds. Sister with big eyes
doesn’t like my small dark drawing of hands.
Must paint larger and lighter–purple lilacs, yellow corn.

Am disgusted with my work, and am glad.
Must forget everything learned, find the shapes
that are mine. I am the prairie thirsting.
I am the sky changing. I am the wind stirring.

My room is bare and white like a mirror.
In black, hair back, I walk toward the horizon blazing;
scorched, chilled, dust-caked, make my way
along gypsum trail down the mud canyon.

New York! At my easel on the highest story
I gaze upon roofs, trees, cliffs, clouds,
barges, bridges, smokestacks, soot-plumes, steel beams,
skyscraper crowned with chromium needle.

For hours I bathe in the light, as Stieglitz photographs
my hair, eyes, torso, long-fingered hands.
Fold on fold, clean pink, yellow, blue,
from my glass palette I paint the shapes in my mind.

Hipbone, labium, petal, leaf. In the deep green
veins arch apart; a lake settles in the center.
Lily, orchid, iris, rose, magnolia,
Jack-in-the-pulpit, poppy, petunia, trumpetflower.

Oh, the sun! Sweet-smelling desert sage.
After stupor of sadness, sand dunes, mesas,
wide blue space. How my heart races.
Eyes sharpen and soften, skull a flower of bone.

Seven a.m., cool morning, car under cliff,
I turn the car seat and paint. Brown, orange, violet, gray.
Peach slopes cook to red. Clouds boil up black
and thunderous, trampling the slopes to wine.

Climbing the ladder up to the roof–
how big the moon, and soft. Pale silver crawls
over black. Above, the vast dome of stars.
Asleep, I feel the tender fingers of first morning light.

Over my wonderful world the pink and blue dawn
spreads to the snow-capped peak
of Sangre de Cristo, faraway and serene.
Purple asters waken on the shimmering plain.

White Place, hills of ancient lava ash
turreted and spired with gray and red.
Black Place, pink and gold-veined, rollicking elephants
where sea once pounded and dinosaurs fed.

That’s my mountain–Blue Pedernal
where Changing Woman was born. God told me
I could have it, if I painted it enough.
Never good enough, my failures lead me on.

Maria loads on food, logs, water, canvas, the cat.
Car inches along the dry riverbed.
I shovel sand, chop sage, roll away rocks,
paint with my gloves on in the wind.

At forty-five I take what I want–
Ghost Ranch on golden plain. Purple hills,
rotting cedar, light that illumines death.
The world is always at war, atomic lab just miles away.

Empty pelvis. Pelvis bursting with sun.
Winged pelvis with moon. Antler, jaw, sacrum–
the immortal body. Shadows lengthen, colors fade,
I paint alone until dark. I chose my fate.

Stieglitz is gone. Friends go too. Red hills
whiten with snow. Nearer and farther
a large black crow flies over the slope
into clear cold night.

I know what I must paint now–I paint
what I love. Instinct directs me.
Flowers, stones, bones instruct me.
Details are confusing–I observe, select, eliminate,

ruthlessly search for meaning inside things.
Tearing roots from my heart,
arrange in ever broadening light icons, offerings,
blessings that come from, return to life.

That door leads to my paintings. It’s a curse
the way I keep painting it–green, red, from the side,
through the window, in shadow, with clouds, steps,\
snowflakes, leaf drifting by. Now my last door.

Sleeping in the patio on my white bed
I gaze out over Green Valley.
Rocks and horns rest on the wall, patted pink
adobe skin soft against the dusty sky.

Have I gone mad with love? Everything
in my house lives! Listen, they call me
white-haired sorceress. In long black skirt
I stroll with my stick and ferocious chows.

My housekeeper tells me the names
of the colors and passing clouds.
My vision is blurred. Under wrinkled hood
my turquoise eye sees. I work–what else is there?

Sitting still in the sun I’m happy.
The sky is my companion. My spirit moves
in this light. Soon my ashes will sleep in these hills,
as the wind trills on about nothing.