C.S. Merrill's
     Days in a Life

        How to see her? -- is a question which runs throughout this suite of anecdotal poems about Georgia O'Keeffe. Carol Merrill, her cook, librarian, reader, nurse, and companion from 1973-79, offers a unique portrait: brief pictures linked toward a respectful bow, words bare as flint chips ~ a purity of language as honor. We do not find a romantic figure here, but O'Keeffe in feisty form and essential substance: real and strong and rooted in the red hills of Abiquiu.

        "When I got O'Keeffe mss I sat down after midnite at kitchen table when I should've been in bed & read thru in an hour because it was interesting, curious, distinctive, focused, condensed, epiphanous, ordinary & understandable. The details are all, sacramentalizing everyday life in a world of genius a normal, vast space, chewy intelligence, almost selfless observation."

Allen Ginsberg

        "Carol Merrill's tribute to Georgia O'Keeffe are poems in the shape of finely rendered sketches, some of them even paintings. These intimate images convey the delicate shape of O'Keeffe's final years in New Mexico."

Joy Harjo

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Poem 1

The roofless room with vigas and screen
two gigantic jade trees in pots.
Against the far wall a slight niche
with a huge black rock there.
On the whole white wall, a slight shadow
and that rock. O'Keeffe's sight so poor
she doesn't see it, but knows it's there.
Also one moonflower plant blooming wide open
and onions drying on screens, fragrance of earth.

August, 1973

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Poem 17

I worked for O'Keeffe at first
as librarian in the book room.
It smelled of old paper
sweet, sharp, and dusty
bare bulb overhead
plywood table
books all over
on the floor, in crates
on shelves, in boxes.
I listed these books
cataloged them
on a manual typewriter
sitting on a cane bottom chair.
Is this how a medieval scribe felt?
To relieve my hours
she hung a small painting
on the west wall,
brilliant scarlet poppies.
Asked her after lunch,
"May I have that little painting?
Will you give it to me?
I like it." She snorted
didn't laugh
didn't say anything
She snorted...loudly
Years later
looking at a paper
for an auction
I learned how much
money it was worth.
She snorted at me
there in the library.
went out the door.

March, 1974

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Poem 32


September, 1974

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Poem 89

South porch of Ghost Ranch house
Allen Ginsberg sits with O'Keeffe
shows her how he meditates,
crossed legs, straightened back, closed eyes--
breathe slowly, other instructions
but she doesn't mimic him.
He asked, "What do you believe?"
She outstretched her arm
palm up in a semi-circle
in front of her toward Pedernal,
"It's hard to say."
Mountain to the south
fragrant sage, clouds, blue sky
rocks she had gathered
beauty around her everywhere.
Later driving Allen & Peter to Santa Fe.
Allen called her a witch.
I nearly drove
off a curve in the road.
Said he was surprised
how little money she had.
I explained simple
surroundings did not
show her wealth.
No need.

July, 1978

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Poem 103

O'Keeffe remembered
when Stieglitz
first did
of her hands.
They were walking
up Fifth Avenue,
there was a screen
with hands.
No one would have thought
of doing hands like that
before Stieglitz's
portraits of her hands.

July, 1979

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Poem 107

O'Keeffe described
getting lost
on the Texas prairie
with Claudia
out walking near Palo Duro Canyon.
If you leave the depression
of the rutted road
only acres & acres
of grassland
no landmark
nothing to guide you.
Couple of times
pretty well frightened
by that experience.
You keep walking,
try to retrace your steps
but the soil
and grasses
don't hold
your footprints.
She said eventually
you come upon
a road
and you're not
lost anymore.
I asked if you could
follow the lights from town.
She laughed and said
that's when she really noticed
the evening star.
That's when she painted it,
a reassurance to see that light
shining even before
the sun went down.

July, 1979

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C.S. Merrill Background

               O'Keeffe answered my letter.I first visited her one day in August, 1973. She hired me to work on weekends as librarian, secretary, cook, nurse, or companion from 1973 to 1979. This poetry is from my journals written a few hours after the experiences.

               O'Keeffe did not like poetry. However, she would listen to Witter Bynner's translations of Chinese poets in Jade Mountain. O'Keeffe often had me read aloud to her from biographies of the great. Many times we re-read an ancient Taoist text Secret of the Golden Flower.

               O'Keeffe taught me to cook. She taught me to look, really look, at things. She showed me how to live. She let me know her when she faced old age, blindness, and death in the last years of her life.

               O'Keeffe must be remembered. She was a woman of fierce temper, infinite kindness, and impeccable sense of artistry. She encouraged me and changed my life.

               I like to think of her walking in beauty beneath ancient cliffs at Ghost Ranch. This work is thanks for the strength of her will and the spirit of her work.

C.S. Merrill
September, 1995

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CS Merrill photo by Whitney Durrell III

CS Merrill photo

CS Merrill photo by Whitney Durrell III

(51 K)

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Acknowledgements and Copyright Information

Thank you to the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, Inc. for an individual poet's grant in 1994, to complete the manuscript for this book.

Thank you to the following people who critiqued the final stages of the manuscript:

          Jimmy Santiago Baca           John Brandi
           Hathaway Barry           Allen Ginsberg
           Ross Lockridge           Pita Lopez
           Dr. Harold Martin           Laura McGowan
           Dr. Allen Minge           Anna Ortega
           Avis Vermilye           Edith Wylder

Thank you to people who have inspired and encouraged me during the years of writing this book:

Theo Abel, Kazuko Asaba, Sabra Jane Basler, Noel Bennett, Dorie Bunting, Maria Chabot, Dr. Jock Cobb, Holly Cobb, David Gilmore, Merton Gilmore, Niki Glen, Joy Harjo, Harmon Houghton, Dr. John Howarth, Vivian Ivey, Betty Johnson, Pat Jojola, Edith Kent, Dale Kessinger, Richard Levine, Liu Siong, Elma Martin, James Moore, Ann Murray, Dr. Suzann Owings, Kip Powell, Joseph Rael, Marilyn Reeders, Bob and Melanie Sachs, Nanao Sakaki, Pete Smith, Karen Stone, Frank Trainer, Martha Trainer, Mona Wilgus, and Xu Xiao-wen.

Thank you La Alameda Press for treating the manuscript with care.

All poems from O'Keeffe Days in a Life
© 1995 All Rights Reserved by:
Carol S. Merrill
P.O. Box 1746
Corrales, NM 87048

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the permission of the author and publisher, except in brief quotes within critical reviews, articles, and scholarly works.

ISBN: 0-9631909-8-9

This document and other writings not previously copyrighted are
© 1996 All Rights Reserved by:
Carol S. Merrill
P.O. Box 1746
Corrales, NM 87048

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