Since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted the state of Oregon to order its residents to stay home, I’ve had a postcard of Georgia O’Keeffe’s iconic painting propped up next to my desk. Right now, it represents everything I can’t experience: freedom, discovery, wide-open spaces.
I love how the title sounds like a poem: “Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory.” When the news of the world overwhelms me, I distract myself by turning the title into haiku, e.g.:
I first saw this painting as a teen, in an art book I’d checked out from the library. I was instantly drawn to the strangeness of the painting: how the flower, tucked into the curve of the ram’s horn, exudes a tantalizing mystery. Dimly I understood that the power of the painting was not in the objects alone but in their juxtaposition. I sensed the painter’s hand, placing the flower the way a poet places a word.
Nowadays, I have plenty of time to stare at the painting. I keep discovering things. I just noticed the faint shadow under the left horn, which swoops up from the corner of the flower. I try to name the many shades of white in this painting: pearl, bone, chalk, lily, eggshell. The ram’s skull seems to have a face-within-a-face, where small holes open above the massive eye sockets.
The horns loop in perfect curves away from each other, starting out close and ending up what appears to be a yard apart. That length is a metaphor for the times we’re in. If the tips of the ram’s horns are a yard apart, then two ram’s horns would equal six feet.
That’s the distance we’re supposed to stay away from each other.
Erica Goss is a poet and writer living in Eugene, Oregon.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s Ram’s Head, Blue Morning Glory was painted in 1938. It is in the collection of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico.