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POEM 17
by C.S. Merrill (March 1974)

I worked for O’Keeffe at first
as librarian in the book room.
It smelled of old paper
sweet, sharp, and dusty
bare bulb overhead
plywood table
books all over
on the floor, in crates
on shelves, in boxes.
I listed these books
cataloged them
on a manual typewriter
sitting on a cane bottom chair.
Is this how a medieval scribe felt?
To relieve my hours
she hung a small painting
on the west wall,
brilliant scarlet poppies.
Asked her after lunch,
“May I have that little painting?
Will you give it to me?
I like it.” She snorted
didn’t laugh
didn’t say anything
She snorted…loudly
Years later
looking at a paper
for an auction
I learned how much
money it was worth.
She snorted at me
there in the library.
Turned
went out the door.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE FROM C.S. (CAROL) MERRILL: O’Keeffe answered my letter. I first visited her one day in August, 1973. She hired me to work on weekends as librarian, secretary, cook, nurse, or companion from 1973 to 1979. This poetry is from my journals written a few hours after the experiences. O’Keeffe…often had me read aloud to her from biographies of the great. Many times we re-read an ancient Taoist text Secret of the Golden Flower. O’Keeffe taught me to cook. She taught me to look, really look, at things. She showed me how to live. She let me know her when she faced old age, blindness, and death in the last years of her life. O’Keeffe must be remembered. She was a woman of fierce temper, infinite kindness, and impeccable sense of artistry. She encouraged me and changed my life. I like to think of her walking in beauty beneath ancient cliffs at Ghost Ranch. This work [poetry] is thanks for the strength of her will and the spirit of her work.

Painting: “Oriental Popples” (oil on canvas, 1928) by Georgia O’Keeffe