Poem of the Week | June 09, 2014

This week we serve up a new poem by Jessica Jacobs. Jacobs’ first collection, Pelvis with Distance, a biography-in-poems of Georgia O’Keeffe, is forthcoming from White Pine Press in 2015. Poems from this collection have or will soon appear in Beloit Poetry Journal, Iron Horse Literary Review, Poet Lore, Redivider, and elsewhere. Jessica received her MFA in Poetry from Purdue University, where she served as the Editor-in-Chief of Sycamore Review. She now teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Hendrix College and lives in Little Rock, AR, with her wife, the poet Nickole Brown. (jessicalgjacobs.com)
 
Author’s note:

While writing the Georgia O’Keeffe-related poems that eventually became Pelvis with Distance, I visited many of the places she painted. In the winter of 2011, Plaza Blanca was socked in by drifts of snow from a recent blizzard, and I had it entirely to myself. I was struck by the quiet of the place, the utter aloneness that rose up from the ground and pressed down from the wide sky.
 
In the high desert of central New Mexico, northwest of Santa Fe, Plaza Blanca is comprised by a cluster of alabaster stone spires, flanked by thickets of oddly knobbed hoodoos. It became famous as a frequent subject of O’Keeffe, who camped there often and referred to it as “The White Place.”
 
After the death of her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, in 1946, she was reticent to share her grief. In response to most expressions of sympathy, her biographer Laurie Lisle said she “merely acknowledged that it was a time of change for her, that she was learning to be alone in a new way.” As I hiked around Plaza Blanca, I thought of O’Keeffe walking those same paths during that time of loss. I tried to imagine my way into how grief might have shaped her perceptions of the landscape, jotting down notes that eventually became “The White Place in Shadow.”

 

The White Place in Shadow

Georgia O’Keeffe [Plaza Blanca, NM; 1949]

 

I paint them in such
close-up—spires
in high desert, sandstone
coated by white lava
ash—a viewer cannot know
that central darkness
means the sun is setting

 

the clouds on fire, or how
an arroyo wraps this
formation like a moat,
red walls carved smooth
by seasonal flooding,
which leaves the wash
littered with carcasses.
How strange

 

it must be to drown
in the desert. Earlier,
when noon slayed all
the shadows, I lay in it,
the only sound

 

occasional bird cries.

 

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