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Margaret B. Ingraham

Gallery Talk

Doesn’t it seem strange that I would hesitate at all, when at last I
have been asked to curate an O’Keeffe exhibit? A retrospective,
of course, as all of hers are now. This one, landscapes. I am
pleased by that, as you would surely expect, but challenged too
about the best way to compose a gallery talk for visitors who
already love her art for what they know from her postered
popularity, skulls and the floral fragments pushed to her bold
abstraction. We will hang none of those, but mostly the various
views of her flat-topped God-promised Pedernal, ranging from
an early elemental red and blue abstract to the representational
in earth tones like sienna to the perfect later canvasses where
mountain is a deep and dominant purple hue— the color that
landscapists say they understand to recede and to draw the eye
away from foreground. In writing this I’ve just, I guess,
catalogued apt and accessible descriptors or at least captured
part of the art world’s wisdom. But all of this pulls taut against
my Virginia heritage, and nothing I can do prevents me from
longing to tell what is missing: how she loved the Blue Ridge,
whose unmesa-like summits I believe she understood to point to
a more alluring faraway than the one she always spoke about;
and where, if she had vision in her final years, she would have
come to escape what fame had made of her and to look beyond
her grand abstract distractions; and although I cannot say it
publicly, how she loved our mountains too and knew they were
the only place on earth where she might finally grasp more
than her images could hold.


Spring moves up the ridge at the rate
of 100 feet per day in the Shenandoah.
Thus it is that, without asking,
spring moves up the ridge
another day’s full measure,
so cowslip carpets a high meadow
that yesterday lay a plain new green.
Redbuds that hailed the end of frosts
now pale beside the flowering quince
and blaze of samara seeds like blood red
wings adorn the supplicant limbs
of winter-weary sugar maple
and, without asking, pull my gaze
far from valley seam to move me
with this season’s rite procession
up distant hills where purple hurt
like Shenandoah’s haze recedes
into this broken night and through
ragged strips of gauzy clouds
the paschal wafer moon
washes the whole prospect
in ambient glow of its topaz light.

©2010 by Margaret B. Ingraham

Margaret B. Ingraham is a nominee for a 2010 Library of Virginia Literary Award in poetry, the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Award, a Sam Ragan Prize, and several poetry fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the author of the collection This Holy Alphabet (Paraclete Press, 2010), a cycle of lyric poems based on her original translation from the Hebrew of Psalm 119, as well as two chapbooks, Proper Words for Birds (Finishing Line Press, 2009), and Light Is Near Falling (Windy Run Press, 2000). Her poetry regularly appears in a variety of national and international print and online literary journals, and former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser selected her work for inclusion in the anthology The Windflower Home Almanac of Poetry. A portion of one of her poems is engraved on the “Wall of History” that is part of the Tennessee Heritage Bicentennial Heritage Capitol Mall in Nashville, Tennessee. She lives and works in Alexandria, Virginia.

Art by Georgia O'Keeffe.

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