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Two Poems

Susan J. Barbour

O’Keeffe’s Music—Pink and Blue

Now that I have seen myself, I can say what I want to say in my paintings.
—Georgia O’Keeffe, on being photographed by Alfred Stieglitz

Maybe it was the title, but it’s too late
for me to know for certain why at eight

I’d hung a copy on my bedroom wall.
It seems to me—I’m starting to recall—

I’d gone to the library by myself
to find Collected Paintings on a shelf.

I think I’d seen her calendar of flowers,
Irises and Lilies. And for hours

I sat admiring petals and their hues,
their plume-like curves and boldness. I refused

to close the book till I had memorized
each flower, as if that would give me eyes

to paint like her: the master of her craft.
I wonder if my parents ever laughed

or wrung their hands to see their child gaze
so deeply and intensely at the ways

Nature could suggest, or shout out, “SEX”.
Perhaps they failed to see? I sat and sketched

orange tiger lilies and blue morning glories,
copying the endless inventory,

but then I saw an old book, fabric-bound,
and grasped for it—something flitted down,

a xerox of Music—Pink and Blue, not flowers,
but rather something leading us to our—

I didn’t know the word for it—our song?
an entrance, painting with its sounds: belong.

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Posing

Penny Burns got me interviews for ‘permanent temp’ positions as a secretary at investment banks. This meant they neither gave me benefits nor claimed me in their staff headcount. It also meant I could jump ship without compunction. Jobs came easily. I typed fast and was overeducated. I also had an unbridled manner which – according to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing – fit a certain bill. In the language of oil painting and advertisements, women are one of several archetypes: serene mother (madonna); perfect hostess (spectator-owner’s wife); sex-object (Venus, nymph surprised); and freewheeling secretary (actress, king’s mistress). Every morning as I crossed Park Avenue at 53rd Street I looked up over my right shoulder to burn the image of the Met-Life building into my eyelid-album, nurse white; Midwestern innocence is an antiseptic. One has to bolt (taxis, tulips, taxis) as soon as the walk sign turns. You might just make it after allllllll’, and I toss an invisible beret into the air, which hangs there, because that is where the song ends.

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Susan J. Barbour earned an MSt in English Literature at Wolfson College, Oxford, in 2009. She is currently living in Paris where she is completing a book of poetry on the model-artist dynamic. You can visit her here and here.