Photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe's Hands and Horse Skull, 1931.

Five Poems by Emily Wall

In Response to Paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe

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Black Iris III by Georgia O'Keeffe
Black Iris III, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1926.
© 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dear Fist

                                         dark iris—

                            —dear hush of a florist door—

                                                                                  here, a moment
                                                                                               of black—
                                                                                                              —of velvety quiet.

                         Down the road
                Stieglitz is shot through with some bright light
                spread across marble table, Chinese food
                —men crushing words
                                            —her paintings he says—
                                                   symbolizing he says
                                            the unpronounceable archetypal
                                                                                                    —well actually
                                                                                      he says.

 

                                I slip past—
                                                           —down the long bone of road—

  

                   —here—the lift
                                               the tips of a feather—

                                the slip of a breeze—

—there, almost missed—

 

                                                                          the angle of a brush
                                                                                                       that says
                                                                                                                                      it’s like this

                                                                                                       that says

                                                                              your core
                                                                          is not a vagina.

                                                                                      (Those men! Those tongues!)

 

                                              It’s a hard bulb
                                              —a black rock—
                                           packed like a ribcage

                                                —before breath.

 

 

 

 

Peach and Glass, Georgia O'Keeffe
Peach and Glass, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1927.
© 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dear Perfection

             —dear hand on knee bone
                                   —peach on dish.

                               Dear ancestral kitchen,
                                                           fragile china,
                                                                         white-frame farmhouse.            

                                                                                                                                He calls me, his white one.

 

                               We have such a long history of erasing
                                         peaches with our mouths.

 

                               I spend all day mixing the color
                                              of this thin skin—

 
I’ll know it when I see it.

                                                             Hold your hands exactly this way

                                                            —he says, over and over—

                                                                               —to me—
                                               —to the naked girl standing in the frigid lake—
                                                                       (his newest model
                                                                     his youngest girl yet).

               Let’s just say it:
                              blue skin
                              black lake
                              dark woods—

 
               once upon a time—
                             there was a girl.                       

                                               Once upon a time—
                                                              —I spent four days perfecting the blush of a peach—

 

ah.  I see it now.
                                               Perfection?

 
                                                                       Dark pit
                                                                 on a white plate.

 

 

 

 

Ladder to the Moon, by Georgia O'Keeffe
Ladder to the Moon, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1958.
© 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dear Thin Air

                                            night sky

                 —largest quiet, deepest canvas—

                                            —dear rungs to the black door.

                                                                       Tonight I wait for a friend
                                                                       the stones of the patio cooling.

 
I feel better when I put my hands
              on your solid sides

                            on the ribs of your rising—.

                                                                                       If you look hard enough at the moon,
                                                                                                     it will outshine—
                                                                                                                     the stars

                                                            those holes through which
                                                                                       letters drop, suddenly—

                                                                                                              please, dearest,
                                                                                                    you’re beautiful I need you
                                                                                                              come back down.

Of course
              —it’s the grip—

hand on rung-bone—
                              it’s the looking up.

                                                                                Tonight I wait for a friend
                                                                                the stones of the patio cooling—

 
                                               —my feet arcing into darkness—

 
                                                                        —oh, forget whoever it is
                                                                                      you are waiting for.

           

                              Tonight, here is a ladder—
                                            half bright with your climbing—

                              and half dark
                                            with your promise.

 

 

 

Winter Road I, by Georgia O'Keeffe
Winter Road I, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1963.
© Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Dear Walking Out

                                                             Of course we live
                                              in houses made of dust.

 
                                                          I lean naked
                                         early evening, backbone

                   to softening
                       adobe—        
                                                yesterday, a little rain
                                                                            today, a weakening.

 
 

                   I touch my skin—                            its hundred tiny scars—

                                                its thousand broken roads.

 
                   I trace this falling—        this dissolving—

                                                a muscle beginning—to dust. 

 
 

Tomorrow, I will walk out 
                                                            —in first light—

                                                                                         and I’ll find bright bones.

 
 

                            I will gather them—
                                                            these not-deaths,
                                                                          these moon-shards, survivors,
                                                                                                      these teeth-in-wind.

                                               

                        Tomorrow I will paint them—

                                                and paint them again—

                                                                          until every petal of skin

                                                                                                      is peeled away.

 

 

 

 

Tan, Orange, Yellow, Lavender, by Georgia O'Keeffee
Tan, Orange, Yellow, Lavender, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1959-1960.
© 2021 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Dear Sacrament

—dear pantry shelves

                                                           —dear January day of clear glass jars—
 

the colors!
              Vermillion, melon, indigo                       

—just waiting
              for my need. 

                                                           Each bone viga painted, floor clean—
                                                                         see what hangs
                                                                    on my true skeleton?

 
                                             And what hangs on yours?

 
              Sister, who do you invite
                past your front door?

 
                                                                        Past the table and chairs
                                                                                          —the kitchen stove—

                                                                  past the ingredients in your pot

                                                                                     that say so much—
                                                                                                      about you.

 
What do you keep
                            in the room
             built only to hold
                            —your hunger?

 

        In mine—
                            a ribcage of shelves
                                          a thousand glass sheaths.

 
                                                                                               One lantern
                                                                                                 of squash
                                                                                         of warmest orange.

 

 

 

Emily WallEmily Wall is a professor of English at the University of Alaska. She holds an MFA in poetry and her poems have been published in journals across the U.S. and Canada, most recently in Prairie Schooner and Alaska Quarterly Review. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her most recent book, Flame, won the Minerva Rising chapbook prize. It’s the first book in a trilogy of chapbooks that come to us in the voices of three powerful women. This group of poems will be published in the forthcoming chapbook Both Song and Fist, also from Minerva Rising Press.
 
Read poetry by Emily Wall previously appearing in Terrain.org: one poem and three poems.

Header photo, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hands and Horse Skull, 1931, courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Wikimedia. All paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe are included here by permission of the appropriate agency (see photo credits). These images may not be used elsewhere, copied, or downloaded.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.