Georgia O’Keeffe. ‘Anything (Green and Red Trees)’. Oil on canvas, 1916. O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fé, New Mexico.
Here’s a poem I originally wrote in Spanish and then translated into English. The setting is rural New Mexico, and so a few notes by way of clarification are in order. ‘Doña’ is a Spanish term of respect applied to older women and implies not only age but a somewhat elevated social position. ‘Alba’ is a now somewhat old-fashioned first name which also means ‘dawn’ or ‘first light’. The Rio Chama is a wide and in places swiftly flowing river that descends from Colorado into northern New Mexico and empties into the Rio Grande at Española in Rio Arriba County. Masa is a type of fine flour, usually made from corn or wheat. A comal is a round flat cast-iron handled pan used for frying tortillas and other food items. A bosque is a wooded area, often along a stream or water source of some kind. In the northern New Mexico which is the setting for this poem, the bosque in question would probably include cottonwood trees whose leaves would rustle in the afternoon breezes which often arise in summer in that part of the world, a feature of the Rocky Mountains and their adjacent ranges.
Doña Alba on the Ranch
She could never recall the events of childhood in sequence,
For then time had spread out, forming dimensions
In which to wander, as she wandered the paths
And the meadows of the Rio Chama ranch.
As she grew and her links to the world grew more,
Time flattened into a line, a line which she travelled,
An ever more swiftly moving line, outside her, using force
And which ended in the vanishing of both line and aging self.
Now ninety, laying thin discs of masa on comal,
She thinks of herself as being just as round and flat,
And crisp and burnt with age, and brown, and time
As spreading out again, but a circle now, and within
Rather than without. She no longer does the wandering,
For that is time’s job today, as it circles within the center
Of her self. It has become warm again too, like the sun
Which heats the sage which rims the bosque of the ranch.
She likes this wandering. She first noticed it this morning
After mass in the church of San Tomás. It is expanding,
Spreading out, a place of refuge into which to fall
As with pleasure and great relief she will simply cease.