Something about having my ashes scattered about Ghost Ranch, and the unsanctimonious decision by Arthur Pack to turn my beloved sanctuary over to the Presbyterians so they could make of it a retreat (and thus my remains, trampled on by these pilgrimages into my lovely hills), this irony, has caused me to think of you, my dear Alfred—and all the things we left unsaid, and though I wish I could put down on paper and let these few words serve to manifest something of my vitality to you, death disallows it, and even these few thoughts I wish to speak to you, knowing they won’t ever actually reach you, and as I stated, something about the pious nature of my beloved Ghost Ranch hints toward a final confession, but not as a penitent confesses will I, for I ask for no forgiveness, as none is needed—only understanding, and this for myself more than from you as I hash over our life together and try to resolve something of the substance. For I feel another breakdown coming on, Alfred. It’s as if everything is dissolving, washing away, and you know how waters terrify me when I reach this mindset.
I’ve been thinking lately how distance always managed to clarify our relationship more so than being in each other’s presence. Absence, or the negative space in both our respected Arts, appears, or more accurately—it disappears to petrify and complement existence and psychological mood more than physical presence ever could. But absence, without the knowledge of a future reunion is it not just another form of loneliness?
I know you are buried near your lake and surrounded by the phalanx of pines to keep you company. I would get claustrophobia in such a cramped space with such a limited view of the sky through the trees. However, I pray they throw a loving chiaroscuro upon your plot of earth when the sun rises each day. The photographer in you would love that. Do you know, Alfred, I never felt like I was in such able hands as the times you photographed me, especially when I made myself most vulnerable and allowed you to photograph me naked. It felt invigorating to be the subject studied. In these instances, I never minded the puritanical claims of sinful eroticism. In fact, I loved such claims, and with my ethics instilled in me by my mother, and applied to highest standard of Art by me, and her teaching her children from an early age what an woman could and should be (not as society saw it, for she believed in her girls, that we could do and be whatever we wanted, albeit she would have been most offended by my nudity, never my audacity), brought out the fight in me, and I turned my nose up to such unenlightened and insulted mentalities and scoffed in the face of public outrage.
Over all these years, Alfred, some things have not changed. I still feel defiant towards society, and that an artist must remain aloof from it to keep an outsider’s eye. I still prefer a flower to a person. You remember me telling you, “When I hold a flower in my hand and really look at it, it’s my world for the moment?” I sometimes think I did not paint my flowers large enough. Perhaps, I should have tripled the size of the canvas. Feminine beauty, larger than life, unfettered and unfraught by the cabal of patriarchy you and your artists clung to like the one true dogma of divinity. My paintings were not meant to offend you, rather to frighten. At the center of your fright, staring back, not in some Freudian embellishment of woman’s repressed sexuality as you and your critics might say to disguise your fear, but in duplicated glory: the flower, blossomed open to expose that at the heart of that voluptuous intimacy and sweetness, an ovary—dark, frightful and beautiful for being nothing more than a simple flower. Nature’s mirror in my paintings often frightened you and made you seek protective rights over me, as if I were the only vulnerable one.
Alfred, l must confess that your affair with that Norman girl affected me. Don’t push on me once more that bohemian tale about artistic entitlement. Could we just call your lust what it was? I had my code, and though I lived by its strictness, that nothing take precedent over my Art, I never once expected you not to live out your intemperance under the guise of “for the sake of Art” as well, though we both know what it really was. So, I remained silent. The gap between us grew. But Alfred, I never applauded you for hurting me the way you did. That hurt, caused by you, opened doors to burgeoning emotive powers that had been trapped within and would have stayed there were it not for you. The hurt helped me see New Mexico like a tragic book laid open and read to the middle, half my painting had already been done for me. Your infidelity contributed to the last half. Thank you, Alfred, and I don’t mean that sarcastically.
I wish you could see this New Mexico you helped me create. It is this barren, desert landscape with mountains rising in the distance, and hills as variegated as zebra stripes, but with many more colors than just black and white. And the reds. Oh Alfred. If you could see the reds like streaks of blood in the siltstone and shale. Or the forlorn crosses atop the hills, making each hill a Golgotha and a suitable spot for crucifixion, like the land itself suffered as much long ago and speaks of endured agonies over geological periods.
And yes, Alfred, after all these years, I found my view of the sky the way it should be painted. From the ground, it’s blue for miles upon miles upon miles in every direction. And then the clouds form overhead during monsoon season. And I have the most amazing seat to watch the drama unfold. This communion between sky and earth is untarnished by the likes of your beloved trees. Lightning from above touches the haunches of earth below and animates it all for a moment. It truly is breathtaking.
As it starts, Alfred, the morning is peaceful and blue. Out of nowhere, the most beautiful and puffy white clouds appear in uniformed rows with a frame of blue between them. As the heat of the day climbs and the moisture from the earth evaporates, more and more of these clouds smack against anything, it can be as small as an anthill (forgive the exaggeration), it seems, and gather into one gigantic thundercloud with an underbelly dark with bruises, and then a fantastic lightning bolt can be seen twenty miles away, as it flashes out in a network of white light at Pedernal Mountain. When this happens, distance becomes this proportional riddle that seems not to exist, as everything appears closer than it should be.
And the bones. Alfred, these bleached bones that are found in the strangest places appear to be the harbinger of a life lived before modern society and its trappings. Sometimes they speak to me of dreamscapes, of an unconscious living where life went on and on, and nature, though it acted as a cruel agent, it couldn’t be said to be cruel of itself, rather indifferent. The hills speak of the other aspect of nature, this softness amongst the harsh elements. They roll out of the earth, like a plump, naked baby on a mother’s bosom. And you take the adobe houses that do the same kind of rising out of the earth, only symmetrically straight lined, and you add the metaphor of the ladders adorning each house, and, oh my, Alfred, it just becomes too much, it overwhelms the senses, and after painting feverishly to capture this essence, one wants to fall and have the earth open and swallow her whole, take her back.
I just wanted to let you know that I am losing my identity, Alfred. The stubborn substance that made our relationship flourish, or that made me paint the way I did, is disintegrating, for Earth does seem to be taking me back, but not as I supposed. It saddens me to think that year by year, the theater between the storming sky and desert earth that attracted me to my New Mexico is the mechanism of my undoing. It’s washing me away from my beloved place, little by little, piece by piece I go, into the arroyos, down the Chama and into the Rio Grande. Until, one day, all of me will have drifted down through Texas and into the Gulf of Mexico, but I am no longer afraid of this water, of its appeal to nothingness. Alfred, I do confess, I wish you were there to greet me, or at least that part of you that might still exist. If you ever do find a way to get out of that pine box, I pray, come join me. We can dissolve together. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Born and raised in Ogden, Utah, Alec Bryan has called Albuquerque, New Mexico home since 2016. He works for the Bureau of Land Management as a Rangeland Management Specialist. He enjoys birdwatching, photography and wandering over vast tracks of land looking for shed antlers. Alec is the author of one published novel, Night on the Invisible Sun (Aqueous Books, 2010). His short stories have appeared in Pank, Kill Author, Thrice Fiction, Bluestem and Untoward Magazine.
The Ekphrastic Review
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