Saturday, August 14, 2010

Georgia, Your Hands

Chris at Enchanted Oak is taking the Poetry Bus on a tour of sunny California this week, and she has given us a pictorial challenge. Georgia O'Keeffe's hands are the subject of both the picture and my poem.

O'Keeffe was married to the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and they both scandalized society by some of the photos of her that he took and displayed (not to mention their unusual lifestyle). Stieglitz photographed O'Keeffe off and on for years, so we have a wonderful chronicle of her changing landscape as we see the progression of her subjects and her art.

One of my favorite photos of O'Keeffe shows a young woman, her hair loose around her shoulders, clasping a white silk gown at her breast. This is the first time I've seen the picture of her hands.

Georgia, Your Hands

When you stand so solid in the light
your hands crossed over your heart,
hair around your shoulders, Georgia,
white silk robe clasped loose across your breasts,
coal black eyes  held tight into the lens
like the eyes of the night,
it is your hands,  your long lean fingers
that crush and mix and brush the pigments
against the smooth white canvas
caressing it like silk, your strong, bold fingers
opening  yourself like an iris or a  poppy
or a white trumpet flower
that  feel deep into the yellow white of bones
that stroke the browns and lights of desert shadow sun;
it is your hands prying and pulling at their own skin
peeling away the layers of faraway city and desert,
your eyes, your hair, your white silk robe
until you too are nothing but bone,
bone and bone and stamen and sepal and sand.


  1. your poem helped me visualize her photograph and not only a photograph of her, but a realistic picture of her, of an artist, of a woman, and also, this poem opens up a general vision to let see the artist's struggle. it is made palpable here.
    i don't really see how you achieved it, but i don't mind being dumb - i just loved reading it :)))

  2. When I read your poem, Karen, my reaction when I reach the end is very simple: Oh, my God.

    I don't want to add anything else. But I will. You give me a vision of Georgia and her work and her sexuality and her power in just these few lines. The final one, bone, and bone, and stamen and sepal and sand, is a piece of poetic brilliance.

    I suggest you send this to the O'Keeffe estate along with the Stieglitz photo, and offer it to them as a gift.

  3. Rich and interesting! Has an incantatory quality, I thought, which reminded me of Allen Ginsberg.

  4. Wow Well and wow
    again...Nobody could have written such an appropiate poem for this pic... but you!

    Brilliant, Karen!


  5. This is an incredible poem, capturing the feeling of looking at Georgia O'Keeffe's art, the photographs of her, and an authentic imagining of her creative process. I love the final line as well, and all the compelling, rhythmic words leading up to it.

  6. Wow. I found the hands to be too scary to write about - I don't know why, they just frighten me in some visceral way. But this poem redeems them for me - fabulous!

  7. SzelsoFa- What a great compliment! Thank you. I hope if you aren't familiar with her work, you will research her and see how she peered into the heart of flowers and the desert. There's also a fascinating movie of her life, but I can't for the life of me remember the name.

    Chris - Thank you for making me remember to think of Georgia. I haven't visited her work for a while, and your prompt urged me to do that.

    Dominic - I haven't read much Ginsberg, so now I have a new assignment! Thanks.

    Dulce - Thank you! You are always so kind.

    Annie - From one O'Keeffe lover to another, I thank you! She was an incredible woman and artist. I love strength in a woman, and she epitomized it, yet she was real and loving. Thanks!

    Bug - Thanks. If they hadn't been her hands, I might have reacted the same way. Knowing her life story, though, makes them seem totally appropriate.

  8. Karen, my new favorite. Very bold.

    It's Complicated

    Lord God! You demand
    so much of your life and mine
    as if you had rights
    to my soul, to strip
    me down to gray stripes and sand
    as if I left you,
    as if it's today
    that you found out what I'm like.
    That's just not the case
    nor am I at peace
    or willing to tell the truth
    on this, my last stand.

  9. Absolutely tremendous. I looked at that image for a long while, but nothing came, though I wanted it to. If I had written your poem I would be in seventh heaven. Congratulations.

  10. i think have seen a few of her works, Karen, but will check out the movie, too.

    what i did see, though was a movie about Frida Kahlo (with a brilliant Salma Hayek in the leading role).

  11. it is your hands, your long lean fingers
    that crush and mix and brush the pigments

    This captures all the anguish and latent power of the photograph..

  12. Beautifully done--the build up from "strong fingers" on is really wonderful, with a breathtaking final image. One of your best works!

  13. Love this one.

    "that feel deep into the yellow white of bones"

    captures the discomfort some of her pictures make me feel

  14. Like Emerging Writer, I really like this. That line, "..that feel deep into the yellow white of bones.." excellent.

  15. Ooh, my first hands one! And it's like arrivng at the zenith without even acclimatizing.
    This is a head, heart and soul poem, Karen, and I have no greater compliment than that. You have conjured the image for us, and inlaid it with images and meaning, then pared it back to that final, breathtaking line. Superb.

  16. 開懷幸福的生活,是每個人的夢想~~希望大家都能夠實現!...............................................................

  17. Gosh...
    I am literally without breath.
    "until you too are nothing but bone"
    So strong so essential
    Wonderful piece

  18. Evocative and telling. Great that you had such meaning associated with that picture.

  19. Magnificent. You capture O'Keefe beautifully. Hands tell so much, sometimes more than our faces.

  20. The hands of an artist ... photographed in a somewhat disturbing pose ... you have captured Ms. O'Keefe's unique beauty and presence perfectly.

  21. Wow.Silenced the creepiness in the pic beautifully...Very Interesting!:)

  22. Thanks for the background info on the photograph I have also used. This is a beautiful protrayal of O'Keefe which I'm sure she would approve of. The final lines are mesmerizing....until nothing but bone, bone and bone.

    Thank you.

  23. Great piece!
    I have read so many books about her and own quite a few; she is incredibly complex. There was a good bit of controversy about it, but you may enjoy the book by Sarah Whitaker Peters , Becoming O'Keeffe (the early years). Very dense and nice selection of her work.

  24. wow, karen. i've been staring at this box for half an hour trying to come up with words.

    it is perfect for the prompt. and perfect without it.

    the way they are "pulling at their own skin" - like they can't stand being idle - and i love the words you use - things like "strong, bold" and "feel deep", and "crush and mix and brush" - to me it's very much the work of the artist here, almost farm-like. pouring one's self into it, not so much creating as cultivating. until "you too are nothing but bone," - leaving it all on the canvas. the last two lines are absolutely jaw-dropping.

    this is one of my favorites. period.

  25. the embodiment of O'Keeffe in strong strong as bone. amazing as always....

  26. 你不能決定生命的長度,但你可以控制它的寬度..................................................................

  27. My first comment vanished into thin just jotted down a line to let you know that I had visited.

    I truly love the title. It invites the reader in immediately. I like a title that is a original and unusual.

    Gorgeous description of Georgia herself - dark, brooding, masculine, angular, fitting into the landscape so readily. Then, I love how you develop the theme from...the nature of the artist to her becoming what she loves and what she paints.
    "...bold fingers
    opening yourself like an iris or a poppy
    or a white trumpet flower." fabulous

    " is your hands prying and pulling at their own skin
    peeling away the layers of faraway city and desert..." - Great lines. Go "hand in hand" with the prompt.

    Through your admiration of Georgia, and her work, you have fashioned a real tribute. As I said before - amazing!

  28. Really incredible how you have nailed that almost transubstantial link between the painter and the art. Really.


  29. Pure poetry.

    'until you too are nothing but bone,
    bone and bone and stamen and sepal and sand. '

    Oh, I love that!

    Ps. I'm curious to know more about these people because of your background detail.

  30. Christopher - I'm glad you like it and that it inspired you to create!

    Dave - Thank you. I see parts of this that I want to rework, but as soon as I saw the picture, I knew what it said.

    SzelsoFa - I love Frieda, too! I haven't seen that movie, but I keep thinking I'm going to watch it. Barbara Kingsolver has a new book (The Lacuna) about Frieda. I recommend it.

    Jinksy - Thank you!

    John - Thank you!

    Emerging Writer - It is a most interesting photo, I think!

  31. Martin - Welcome, and thank you.

    Titus - Head, heart, and soul. That's high praise. Thanks, JoAnne.

    Gwei Mui - Thank you!

    Niamh - I had the instant association. Georgia is an artist whose work I have always admired. She peers into the hearts of things.

    NanU- I agree about the hands. Faces may be deceptive; the hands never lie!

    Helen - Thanks. It is a disturbing pose, isn't it? I wonder at the motivation for her actions. I have to think she was relating to her art.

    Erratic Thoughts - I'm glad I was able to do that, and I hope I've inspired some to look into O'Keeffe's work.

  32. Yvonne - Welcome, and thank you. I am happy to have shared this prompt with you, and I'm glad I found your work, too!

    izzy - Thanks for the recommendation. It's nice to find another devotee!

    joaquin - Leaving your speechless? Now, I'm speechless! Thank you for your careful reading and comment. The farming analogy is wonderful.

    Kay - Thank you for both, especially as I know how it pains you to spend time on the computer. I appreciate your deep reading and detailed comment. (re: your comment on the title - thanks! I have trouble with titles!)

  33. Kat - That link - that transubstantial link - thank you for seeing it here.

    TFE - Google her! She's amazing!

  34. I had the same reaction that Joaquin did. Wow. I'm just sitting here trying to find the right words to describe how much I love this poem. Oh, my goodness, these lines are breathtaking:

    "...deep into the yellow white of bones
    that stroke the browns and lights of desert shadow sun;
    it is your hands prying and pulling at their own skin
    peeling away the layers of faraway city and desert..."

  35. I just love to see you talk poetry with Dave, Kay and Joaquin. You guys are just on another level. Or should I say breathe different air all together when it comes to poetry. I feel privileged to be reading your work. I truly do. This stuff shouldn't be free. But I'm glad it is. :)