The Stieglitz Series on O‘Keeffe

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Terri Brown-Davidson

The Stieglitz Series on O’Keeffe



I thought: Perception’s a tricky thing.
  I stared at the stark white wall. A blue-black flower. No—a blood-bruise. Purple vulva? I touched my eyelids then blotted, with one of his oversized hankies, the sweat pooling beneath my breasts.
  The house was quiet. Crickets outside, whirring black wings, though it was late, one a.m., two, an hour when my mother always said decent people would be in bed. The first time Stieglitz and I showed up at a midnight party, our arms twined around each other’s waist, twins in black, matching capes flowing down to our boot tops, everybody laughed. And—for a second—I was mortified. Then, my spirit detached from the cocktails and crisp, linened tables, ascended to the ceiling, an O’Keeffe figure afloat in some hazy blue firmament.
  I was floating, and I was free.
  Then less free, suddenly: a housewife scrubbing a toilet bowl.
  Through the filmy kitchen curtains, a glimpse of silvered moon. I leaned naked over the sink, eating my sandwich, letting the crumbs scatter across the porcelain sides, breasts resting sweaty atop my arms. A field stretched from the house out to the road, shadowy and black—not green—despite the moon. Stieglitz was asleep, thank God—even my calf muscles ached.
  He’d posed me atop the bed. Stripped all the blankets off the mattress, made me fling myself into the air like a toddler. Not dignified, hell—not even attractive. Thinking about this, I picked at my sandwich, which had salami and onions in it, pepperoni, a generous heaping of lettuce. I knew that I’d reek tomorrow. Was glad.
  Stieglitz would say that’s because I’m a woman of many moods.
  Perception’s a tricky thing, yes. If you looked at me, maybe you’d think you saw an ordinary woman, brown hair going-to-gray coiled atop her head, eating her sandwich in quiet little bites then walking naked across her kitchen to nowhere, an empty coffee pot in her hand that she always forgot to fill with water. A dreamer, the most useless sort, gaunt, slack-breasted, thinking more about the dirty sheets she’d wadded up in the hamper yesterday than about her painting.
  Or maybe you’d think you glimpsed, beneath the starved pallor of my flesh, the contours of the body Stieglitz already had immortalized in a hundred sepia-toned shots. Those thighs, you might murmur, those breasts—what myth, what magic—larger than . . .
. . . . . . .
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