Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on

–-- John Keats, from "Ode on a Grecian Urn"

Pelvis with the Distance

An ekphrastic poem is a poem about another piece of art, often visual art — in this case a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe called “Pelvis with the Distance.”


I saw the painting last weekend at the Tacoma Art Museum here in Washington State, part of a collection called, “Eloquent Objects” about O’Keeffe’s still life paintings and those of her contemporaries in New Mexico.


You said they have more life than the animals they came from,
the bones placed against the sky so that others could see the sky as you do.
Those animals, I guess, must be us.

It takes someone who has been in the desert a long while
to see it that way, the dry white structures of mind,
the delicate psyche from which all the rest comes,
radiant dust we never knew so well.
Those bones must have been an intuition so private and wordless and potent
that all that any of us can do is paint like hell
our own impoverished, crude versions of ourselves,
trying to keep up with you.

There is hardly any silence left.
There seem always to be planes overhead and no one can ever get
far enough away from the noise of the highways we pay for
as we try to forgive those who have paid for us.
The sky you saw through the pelvic hole is the one we all keep searching for,
one with just sky, a blue gradient contained in a blanched ladder of bone,
reaching toward rich and empty light.

I imagine the top of an adobe house beneath red stars
where something still reaches out for us, thin resemblance though it may be
of the lives we could have had. Grieving, we turn away into the night
wondering about all the paintings left undone, the poems unsung,
the sail of the spirit numb, a faded thing,

to be now yet another ghost hovering above a ranch
among regular white clouds and far away
in New Mexico.

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  • dear Dan
    I like you poem – a lot. Thank you!

  • Thank you so much, Anne-Marie. Thank you for visiting!


  • Susan Cox wrote:

    Brilliant capture of what it is to live here in the high desert of northern New Mexico.
    It is such an unlikely place for inspiration
    …and yet the almost austere lines of the topography (hewn from volcanoes and glaciers) and the bleached bones are incredibly inspiring.
    You see it in Georgia OKeefe’s work and
    I see it in your poem
    Thank you Dan

  • Lovely, Susan, thank you. I find New Mexico a very spiritual place. Don’t know what it is exactly, but there’s mystery in the land forms and colors that O’Keefe gathers into her paintings, her way of seeing so diligently communicated. All the best, Susan!


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