Friday, December 19, 2008

Georgia O'Keeffe Writings by Women

As promised, below are some of the wonderful writings of women who participated in the November 18th workshop at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. The workshop, entitled "The Art of Self-Image" asked writers to choose a photographic portrait of O'Keeffe (in the current exhibition) and create an imagined dialogue between the photographer and the painter. Then, writers wrote a letter to O'Keeffe about themselves. Featured here, a poem from photographer Todd Webb's imagined perspective, by Deborah Casillas; dialogues by Barbara Rockman, Robyn Hunt and Lyric Kali, and an excerpt from her letter to O'Keeffe by Anna Katherine. Here are some of the Santa Fe women writers who might be your friends and neighbors. Thanks to all. VM

Deborah Casillas

Photograph of O’Keeffe
Todd Webb: Twilight Canyon

It’s the light I want to capture, a white shaft that splits
the canyon wall, following the curve, the sinuous swoop
and hang of stone.

She steps deliberately, another shadow, the way
she disappears into the landscape of her own paintings,
present but unseen, part of the muted cliffs,
the creased hills, the stark branches of a blackened tree.

She knows I’m here, always watching; both of us sealed
into the silence. I photograph silvered water and cliff face,
the rocks’ texture, shallow pools threaded through sand.
Integration is what I care about, skin of body,
skin of stone and stream, intermingled.

Will she be disappointed that I’ve captured her like this?
Unidentifiable, turned away. Not the iconic,
recognized woman, her sharp eyes watching you.

A portrait with a hidden subject. Landscape dominates,
a play of rain-streaked stone and still water. Does she see
her own face as she stares down, finding in the imprecise
reflection of the stream what she won’t find in my print—
the lined features of her face?

Or will she be pleased instead, knowing my camera
at her back captures the essence of what draws us
to this canyon—the quality of solitude, the towering
weather-pitted walls, the shifting patterns of the land.

* * *
Barbara Rockman
From photo of O’Keefe’s hands draped around the skull of a horse, 1931

Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Georgia O’Keefe

Your hands were made for teeth
for bite and grit to fill cavities
to caress the chasm where the tongue might live
soft-tipped and calloused
head lamps in caverns
probing dark pools
your arced wrists
are easy with blanched bone
numbering rungs of vertebrae
look how you forgive the flayed flesh
love what was stolen by heat yours
are the arms of heat
ravenous fists released to death
yours are the hands of my lust
my absent caress

Letter from Georgia O’Keefe to Alfred Stieglitz

Be calm, Alfred. No,
I am a plain woman. I rinse dishes,
pull weeds and unleash the dogs on dirt trails.
I sleep in a narrow bed. I rise early.
These are hands that sometimes hold brushes and mix paint,
apply color and decipher the sky. With these hands
I scratch my head at the improbable.
I twist them under my breasts in sleep.
Fisted against my stomach they fly
from my body in dream. Hands
at the tips of wings, Alfred.

How you splayed my fingers,
insisted I caress the absent forelock,
empty sockets, each stone molar, each
shadowy cuspid, imagining a long rough tongue.
Alfred, I want nothing of death.
These (I admit, elegant) hands
cup seeds, cut back Echinacea,
snip herbs for the sauce. They tug knotted shirts
from a basket, shake them into light,
clamp them to the line with bleached pins.
What can a man know of women’s hands?

Green hills, habitat of red-stained
barns, blackberry bramble,
cornfield and lake. I left
gilt eagles spread patriotic
over black frames, black-
shuttered white clapboard,
the brass knockers.
I slammed a door.

This is a ruined, ragged land.
Skies so big they creep into bed with you at night.
With pen rather than paint I escaped
tidiness, entered fracture, remains,
aspen, mesa and arroyo.

I have a cynical, faithless bent and yet
I seek the girl hidden
in fern beds, lichen-licked,
moss logs so damp black they dissolved
beneath her, as you moisten a raw crevice.

Might we be sisters
in fingering the juncture
of suction and flourish?
of absence and arousal?

* * *

Anna Katherine:

"What is left after years of scouring,
that is our truth, hard and simple."

* * *
Robyn Hunt

The Rock from Eliot Porter
(a conversation between John Loengard and Georgia O’Keeffe, photographer and model)

Georgia, can you feel how the oval cuts a hole in your hand? How the pulse
of the black against your white skin is where the eye goes? You in your drape
of night even in daylight. You are headless here and nowhere but in the still
breath of your outstretched hand, one hand. The other is hidden in your coal
cloak, a soldier’s disguise. I find light just below your heart where one silver
‘x’ of ribbing adorns your narrow wrist exposed.

Are you clutching or holding? Motioning someone to come and witness this
oval stone, this perfect flint? You say a friend gave you this medal? And he
was also a photographer who bent to lift the gift, knowing you would hold it
long and softly ‘til it became a part of you, cleft of your left hand. Bride
in the night diving into the smooth nest. Arresting. You are.

Silly man, it is not a rock but a treasure that Eliot brought. He picked it
from the moving river of the white place like a small fish with no tail.
He knew it spoke, knew it was the shape of pelvic hollows that I know.
You say stretch my left hand open and place this stone squarely there?
Where shall I put my other hand and how long will I have to stand still?

Only a rock, black iris. I am wearing my fanciest frock but it is going to get hot
in here. Do you think it will take very long? Buttoned up. I am. Not much light
in here. But the stone fits so nicely above the long web of fingers, mine. Shine.
Look at the shine. The opposite of dark. I press this rock to my forehead against
headache. Medicine quiet, this Porter rock, no longer wet from the river
but tight in his case until it arrived. “For my steady Pa,” he said to me,
“for your windowsill menagerie.”

No hole in my hand. No, never. Taut. Present. And what shall we have
for lunch when we’re done?

* * *
Lyric Kali:

Ansel Adam's view:
Superimposed over a blue-lit sky
I know the exact color and hue
Her smile is gentle yet shrewd
Her affection apparent by slant of eye
A burst of giggle-laughs threaten
She holds herself close to warmth
Black hat duo--knows (a secret)

Georgia's view:
You caught us having one of our moments
My sass makes Orville shy
I delight in knowing how to bring out his quiet joy
The threads that connect us, you almost caught
in color, on black and white
It must have been the light
Or your wandering eye

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