A DIALOGUE WITH GEORGIA O’KEEFFE III: THE SIMPLE TRUTH OF LIGHT
For Maria Chabot
“Light both softens and cuts,” Georgia O’Keeffe said
when I walked the Labyrinth at Ghost Ranch in April.
It was cold, but the apple blossoms were in bloom and the bees
droned on despite the threat of snow.
“You can’t write someone else’s voice. Just your own,”
you prompted when I petitioned you for sacred words to complete
this poem I’d been working on for years in the voice of Maria Chabot.
It was then I understood how the rawboned girl
had forgone her ill-fitting ruffle in San Antonio,
had traveled all this way to make herself useful,
which is another way of saying,
How do I find my place in this life?
I understood because Maria and I are one and the same.
No different really, we
both arrived stiff and swollen,
stuffed too tightly in worldly constructs,
which is another way of saying, painful constraints.
She wanted something from you, Georgia O’Keeffe.
A way toward understanding.
A way toward freedom and belonging. Nothing
of which you had to give.
You were a painter.
Though she was frequently starstruck,
and swooned sometimes in your wake,
she brought you tea when she thought you were dead.
You so loved your solitude.
You were no mother to her.
No sister, no lover, you couldn’t
even be her mentor.
But you turned your painter’s eye
toward her and when she saw what you saw,
she became all those things and more.
There was nothing left in her way,
but essence liberated from form.
You took her to the BLACK PLACE where no one
else but you saw. There, you could be as bare
as you liked. There was no better
feeling than being liberated by dungarees.
Far from prying eyes,
to be anything you were meant to be.
It was there, way out there,
in the impossible dark where not
even ghosts had yet been manifested.
Where the starlight of the Milky Way
softened her heart until
she could unzip her own soul and stand in her new
strength and brawn. She was, after all,
your hired hand, a role for which she was well suited.
She saw the way I have come to see,
through pain and mercy, that
there are 445 hues of red,
and each geranium holds a different shade.
She discovered that bees love garlic, and
under the right sliver of moonlight, fresh bread
has a voluptuous curve.
She learned that crows are really carpenters
and their wings in flight slice open invisible space where
spirits slip through, and the labyrinth is really
a key that opens up time to a past that remembers itself.
When it all comes down to it.
We are all the walking dead.
We are all spirits passing by as echoes.
And we love the sound of our own noise.
You could not show Maria Chabot
as you cannot really tell me
how to understand light,
how it softens and cuts
until it reveals essential
This is the simple truth of light.