Wednesday, May 5, 2010

O'Keefe's Evening Star

Georgia O’Keefe in Canyon, Texas, 1917

She was just a schoolteacher then
Walking away from the town
in the late afternoon sunset,
A young woman in love
with a treeless place,
The scattered windmills and pounding winds
Of the whole prairie sliding toward dusk,
Something unfenced and wild
about the world without roads,
Miles and miles of land
rolling like waves into nowhere,
The light settling down in the open country.

She had nothing to do but walk away
From the churches and banks, the college buildings
Of knowledge, the filling stations
of the habitable world,
And then she was alone
with what she believed –
The shuddering iridescence of heat lightning,
Cattle moving like black lace in the distance,
Wildflowers growing out of bleached skulls,
The searing oranges and yellows of the evening star
Rising in daylight,
commanding the empty spaces.

~ Edward Hirsch, from The Night Parade

The vastness of space in America's "open country" dazzles -- or frightens -- newcomers from densely populated countries. I belong with those who are dazzled. That's why the West Coast is "my America."


Driving through high desert, Joshua trees
like twisted candelabras, I thought: my

America. This space. This dazzling
nothingness. Everyone has to discover 

his own America, and this one is mine:
not Victorian statuary 

in mosquito-pond estates, 
not the picturesque 

mildew of upstate New York villages, 
but this continental sweep.

A magnitude winged with volcanoes.
Not corn fields, but lava fields.

Not the turnpike, but the endless 
highway unspooling horizons.

Not monotonous muggy green,
but purple and shameless magenta.

Even death is different here,
bleached bones joined to solar flare.

Here at the rim of the world, 
eroding cliffs, the cool ocean wind

combing palm-fronds like a river of hands.
Boulevards of Pacific sunsets,

the sky on fire, a flamenco virgin
taunting, Keep going.

~ Oriana



I like this poem by Hirsch, because I have traveled through those bleak wide open areas of America, and because I have read quite a bit about Georgia O’ Keefe, and admire her work, particularly the less abstract paintings.

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