[encore] 644: Georgia O'Keeffe, "From the Faraway, Nearby," 1937

[encore] 644: Georgia O'Keeffe, "From the Faraway, Nearby," 1937

[encore] 644: Georgia O'Keeffe, "From the Faraway, Nearby," 1937

This episode was originally released on April 1, 2022.


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I have always been fascinated by bones, the way they fit together, the way they break, and mend, and also how they are us and not us at all. There is a beauty to them even in their decomposition. I once carried the bones of a seal skull home from the beach carefully in my backpack when I lived in Cape Cod. I situated it on my front steps and it felt almost alive to me. That seal was living in his stage of his existence and I was living in mine. I’d walk up the steps and say hello to my seal skull and it seemed the two of us worked in tandem to both praise death and defy it.

I still remember the first time I saw Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings of skulls against the desert landscape, the bleached angular bones. Those dramatic subjects seemed to be so much more than what they were. In poetry, we often talk about how looking closely is a way of loving. I know that I can’t help but lean into the small objects I see, and with my attention, with my words, illuminate them.

In O'Keeffe's painting “From the Faraway, Nearby,” we see the enormous wrack of a stag, fleshless, and cleaned by death and the desert, but with the artist’s attention, the bones become more than bones. They become the animal itself, they become death itself. I love the way painting can transform a found object into something beyond its exact physical dimensions.

Today’s skillful poem is an honoring of that famed O’Keeffe painting and, in its close attention, a tribute to the brilliant artist herself.

Georgia O’Keeffe, “From the Faraway, Nearby,” 1937
by Camille Carter

Make no bones about it—
		                or better yet, make bones:
sandborne, sun-bleached, bald-faced bones
naked but for a Southwest sky.

I began picking up bones
		                because there were no flowers.
More than enough to fill your pockets, a treasure
trove—in plain sight—atop sage-covered plains.

In the picture taken by your lover, you pose with them—
		                 nestling them, caressing them, pressing them:
brush of bone against your cheekbone. Your eyes rolled back
in ecstasy—momentarily, you were someplace else.

Place was a metaphysics; the word “skeleton” meant “home.”
		                  He will not follow you there. You return alone
to New Mexico, to your catacomb, curio cabinet stuffed
with canvases, with corpses.

It’s the summer of 1936 when you receive his letter:
	          I worry…the landscape makes you lonely…
But it is his logic that makes you lonely. You will not
bother to reply. Outside at dusk,

you paint the desert, the broken fence, a single
                   chicken bone. Suddenly you are struck
to think how elemental they turned out to be,
your life’s preoccupations.

Where in the prism of the painting antlers bloom,
                   as ascendant and gnarled as branches, 
sits the alien skull of the once-majestic stag,
his eye-sockets hollow but for your projections.

One night you dream you see yourself as if from far away,
	           asleep and slumped on sand dunes the color of cream.
Walking backwards you watch with fascination as your body
fades into a hillock’s hump, is stifled by a sun-drenched sheet.

"Georgia O'Keeffe, 'From the Faraway, Nearby,' 1937" by Camille Carter. Used by permission of the poet.