REVIEW AMERICANA

 

Fall 2015

Volume 10, Issue 2

http://www.americanpopularculture.com/review_americana/fall_2015/vaughan.htm




CHRISTOPHER VAUGHAN

 

Portrait of O'Keeffe at Ghost Ranch
After Tom Daley

 

Eyes slantwise streaks of wit.
Hair an umbra slung
around the moon-curve of her face,
one thread tumbling down her forehead
loose as recent memory.
A forehead reddened in the sweep
of her patio, a forehead wrinkled as parched riverbeds.
She hunches on a rigged porch-rail,
fingers pinned on the edge,
a sizing-up.
A starched chariness, a hiss and coiling.
In the desert winter that tows sun and moon
into one sky, she is of two minds—
might let you in, might not,
might braise, and lay out silver,
might take her walking stick to the scrub tundra.
At repose, her linen slacks sag
to her crossed bare feet, and her white blouse
bunches like the hollyhock she guards.
She has unclasped her collar to the sun,
and the curve at the corner of her lips
is both a liberty and a vanishing.

 

 

Packing the Ford
After a Photograph of Georgia O’Keeffe, by Alfred Stieglitz

 

Oh, the scurry and rustle
that morning you packed for the motortrip
north to swallow the gale
and tidebreak of Gaspé Peninsula!
How you clawed your canvas
into broad squares on the guesthouse floor,
how you hunted down easels
strewn among lake cabins,
clasped the framed wood under your armpit
as you marched them up the slope to the Ford
and clattered them into the trunk.

Woolen-layered against the October chill,
I followed your heavy breath
five paces ahead of mine,
my exhales heaving of bluff and arthritis.
You laid your brushes on the passenger’s seat
step by step, and your left hand
whisked your black shirt under your backside
as you folded into the driver’s side,
clicked the door shut.

The camera heavy in my arms,
I stepped to the window
as you cranked it down, the last
scent of your musk rebuffing me
when you swiveled with a stare of chrome
and steel.  Neither prey nor predator,
you cinched the dotted scarf
around your forehead, took the steering
wheel in your right hand,
and looked straight through me
as the aperture snapped. 
When it opened, the air was scudded
grey, the wheels of the Model A
had already bit the gravel.

 

 

Staging
After Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe

 

“Here?” she asks, and enters the studio.
      Leaning over the stool, she brushes it clean
with a black kerchief, returns it to her right
      coat pocket. He clatters his tripod into position
on a taped-down X halfway between the door
      and the stool. Lifting the monster flashbulb,
he walks it in an arc around her, pale sun
      wheeling the horizon in time-lapse. He clears
his throat. She bunches excess skirt in
      her hand, slides onto the stool, lets the skirt
flow. Now angling the lens, he glances
      through it, tweaks the angle. Three lines
rise on his forehead in furrowed study. 
      His heels clop on the wood floor as he strides
to the chaise lounge to retrieve
      a satin derby cap he will crown her with. 
He ambles to lay it on her, her two
      hands hurry to meet his. Their fingers enmesh,
mountain ridges that slope and cross
      into each other, and they yank the cap
into place, the brim pulled low
      to shadow her brow, the brim tilted right. 
Her hands move to the coat, jerk the waist
      down, smoothing her midsection. He pulls a glance
of white shirtcuff out of her coat sleeve,
      plants himself behind the tripod. He grumbles,
flits his fingers before the lens, a commotion
      of birds, a semaphore. Fiddling the top button
of her coat, she obliges him, left hand digits
      like spindly foal’s legs, prancing on the pearl knob,
her right palm bent back on its haunches,
      forefinger and thumb forming a circle to clasp
the back of the button where it meets her wool
      collar. “There,” he says. He steadies his hand
on the flash, asks her to pitch her chin up. 
      She does, and when she does, her lips part and harden,
and when the shutter drops, her eyes cool
      into icy distance—gazing five feet to the right
of the lens, gazing into her own tomorrow.

 

 

Macular Degeneration
After Georgia O'Keeffe and Juan Hamilton

My fingers are damp in a dough of clay,
      mud bits clotting my nails
the way wave-slicked sand clings
      to a beachcomber’s hands.
I am all fingers now. No longer
      can I have my eyes. 
They have washed to sea, the core
      of my sightscape now
November gloam—now fogged-in,
      rudderless, riven. No longer
can I have steer skulls gleaming alabaster,
      no longer aster petals
silked lavender. No more the rose
      of mesa dust flaming
my canvas lands’ end. But I can have
      you at my side, bellbottoms
swishing, the rustle of plastic sacks
      opening up muscles of clay,
the spin and rounding, your brandy
      voice that smoothes
my bowl’s edge. After glazing,
      we warm by the kiln
to talk of Goya and rattlesnakes,
      and later when I clasp
the bowl it is a mirror echoing me
      chalk and brittle, and I know
you’ve taught me how to touch again.

 

 

 


 

 

Back to Top
Review Home

 

© 2015 Americana: The Institute for the Study of American Popular Culture
AmericanPopularCulture.com