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 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.
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.
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.