The Georgia O’Keeffee Museum hosted a educational program in June called "Walks in the American West: The White Place and Echo Canyon" and it was a trip led by poet Lauren Camp.
There we are at left, walking through an area Georgia O'Keeffe painted and once called The White Place for it's rock formations made of limestone.
While I was getting ready for the trip, I went through my closet looking for a notebook to take. I have a feeling all poets have a box of those fancy, unused notebooks our friends give us as gifts because we're poets and they imagine us writing in fancy notebooks instead of on the backs of cards and scraps of paper.
I had one such friend named Michele who gave me a fancy hard-cover notebook as a goodbye gift in 2002 when I was fired from my job where we worked in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was a dramatic firing and she had been my confidant through the hard-times I suffered there. She was that kind of a friend to many of us. Looking for any notebooks to take on the trip, I unknowingly and randomly picked up hers. I liked the size of the lines on the paper.
When I arrived in Santa Fe to start our journey up the Chama river valley, I discovered Michele's lovely message to me inside, written 12 years ago, encouraging my creative endeavors and ending with, “I will miss our heartfelt talks and good laughs.” She had told me once you have three kinds of friends: friends for life, friends for the ephemeral moment, and friends who are there to help you through crucial times. She was the later. And she was speaking to me from the grave because she had passed away from brain cancer two years ago.
This sobering accident affected my thoughts all through my trip. Lauren Camp had us try out the Japanese form of poetry called the haibun, a combination of prose and haiku. We read "Lepidopterists" by Diana Webb and a haibun by Basho.
I walked out alone among the white place river bank and wrote a haibun for Michele:
Letter to Michele
Chica Micha, you are here in the White Place. Today, your own ink is here. Your fingertips have reached the White Place. Your small printed letters, your porous hardship, your palm is in the White Place touching hardened sand. Your soles are sinking in the river bed. Your breath is trailing me here, telling me, “Some friends stay forever; some friends come and go; and some friends are there only when you most need them.”
The vulnerable brain’s
Your majestic early precipice
Chica Micha, you are floating above the white space. Today, slowly sliding over me in a mass of shape-shifting. You are buzzing today, urgent. And then your quiet is here. You are monumental. Your wrinkles in the stone, your shards of stone, your cup of sand in the linestone. Your towering portrait of ornamental caprock. This of you is here.
The lawn of the river bed
A slow race of tumblers
Hard souls swimming to the next
Chica Micha, your ocean is here. Many shadows of the wave and white caps holding their foam-rock faces to the sun. The party is here, standing in a half-moon circle, grass in our toes, hard smooth backs. Weathered, we are here. Enveloped in your seldom shadows. You are in the White Place. You have traveled to the White Place. Your print is now here in the Place.
Our red hot faces
Finding the small cactus—finally
Foot after rock foot
Later we traveled to Echo Canyon where we ate lunch and worked on epistrophs, forms where the end of each line repeats. I wrote an epistroph about breathing. I think subliminally I was thinking about both Michele and the trip I made to Echo Canyon years earlier with my mother. She had a hard time walking up the path and she was out-of-breath with COPD. I thought she could probably make the trip today after she recently lost 30 pounds.
Ten Lines of Breathing
Finding the path to the bowl and I breathe.
Tangling over my roots and I breathe.
The rock that warms me and I breathe.
Stumbling and I breathe.
Knotting and I breathe.
Bathing in the amphitheater empty and I breathe.
Smelling the fly-sweat and I breathe.
The sound draining with the light and I breathe.
Tipping calls over the rail and I breathe.
Avalanche and I breathe.
We all received a Georgia O'Keeffe pen and tote bag and a generic composition notebook. You know I love me some tote!
Poet Lauren Camp was a great guide through these places and forms. You can find out more about her at http://www.laurencamp.com/. She also runs a blog and hosts workshops, such as Reading to an Audience, which I totally need and would take if I lived closer to Santa Fe.