The first time I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico, I approached the city by driving up from Albuquerque. “Land of Enchantment” passed me by on every license plate, as I was fixed to all the landscape in my field of vision. Face glued to the window, fogging up the glass with my breath and smudging it with my fingers, I was having one of those ecstatic moments–there really ought to be a word for it–when life imitates art.
I was seeing a place where I had never been through the eyes and handiwork of Georgia O’Keeffe. This woman whose life story I knew so well and whose art I had loved for many years. She was out there still, everywhere, in the desert and sagebrush, red rocks and purple hills, on the mesas, trails, and in the enormous clear blue skies, painting it all. I could taste the dryness in the air and smell mesquite burning in the distance. Like the child in Walt Whitman’s poem, “There Was a Child Went Forth,” everything I saw was familiar to me, and I knew a part of me had always been, and would always be, there.
Oh, how I wish I had the word for it, when life and art collide. Paintings, poetry or prose, these are the moments most worth living for, in my experience.
Recently I was handed another one. Again, I was in a moving car, this time through a snow covered landscape, making our way like a sleigh to Logan Airport in Boston. I had been visiting my parents’ in their retirement village on the South Shore and my mind was elsewhere.
Turning to me, the driver said, “Nice place there. Every morning I pick up a Mrs. Blessington and take her to visit her sister in Plymouth.”
“Lulie!” I cried, before I could catch myself.
You need to know that I had recently written a novel, Black Angels, in the course of completing my MFA, and had named one of my main characters Lulie Blessington based on two of my parents’ friends: one named Lulie and the other by the last name of Blessington. I had never met Mrs. Blessington, but I loved the sound of the names together and thought it worked for the feisty up-from-the-South character that was my Lulie. You need to know I had been living in that novel for years, and in that instant, she was practically before me. Well, not exactly before me, but let’s just say the seat was warm with her presence.
There was a young child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many
years, or stretching cycles of years.
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will
always go forth every day.