Early morning arrives and I am in tree pose, daily yoga practice to connect with all that is. Until I see myself in the windows in front of me. Suddenly it’s the possibility of a scintillating selfie, and shit, this would be a really good one, and of course I wobble and fall and my new camera smashes on the studio floor. I start to cry like I am 5, and shout like I am 15, fuck. And then I actually stomp my feet. I can be such a baby sometimes, like any of this is going to change what just happened. The lens is hanging off the camera like an old door.

I’ve begun to realize that Agnes had something to do with me falling.

When your ego arrives, your art dies.

Yes, Agnes, Agnes Martin. This was her painting studio years ago, she built it herself. Arrived in Galisteo from who knows where at 56, the same age I am now. She’s been present since I moved into this studio space two months ago. A ghost? Maybe. Definitely an energy, palpable, circulating, and she’s routing for me.

C’mon woman.

Like I’m the home team or something.

C’mon woman, paint, write, be brave, you gotta be alone in order to dig deep.

Yeah, be alone. She’s right. Not always easy. To face oneself, not just in the mirror, shit no, got to have more raw truth than that. That’s why I came here to New Mexico. To dig in deep, to unearth me from the red earth. Two years ago, I was living on an island in Maine with lobstermen, poets, healers, teachers, Rockefellers, Martha Stewart and thank God George Mitchell, and a beautiful park named Acadia. Yup, or maybe I should say ayup as all good Mainers do, I lived on an island in Maine and thought my life was perfect until it blew apart. Maybe Agnes moved here because her life fell apart. I don’t know. I do know that I was married for twenty seven years to a really good man, a kind man, it’s just I thought it was the forever kind of love, and then it wasn’t and then it ended. Just like that. For a while the kitchen floor was my best friend, bits of sticky rice nestled into my cheekbone. Until one day I listened when the whispers arrived, “Get up. Get up Elisa, and enter the woods. Prowl, climb, crawl, dig.” So I did for almost two years.

I swam with lilies in Somes Pond and wept. I sat in the cold dark damp of caves. Birds and deer and granite rocks spoke to me and I spoke back. I climbed up steep muddy embankments only to tumble down again until I held onto old roots and crawled and they buoyed me up. I roamed that island through the winter and spring until I was led to Ruth, an artist, 95, tucked like a bird in a nest, tucked in a blue gray chair in a nursing home on the edge of the Atlantic. It was she who showed me how to really look at things: clouds, beach stone, bones, a milkweed silk. It was she who reminded me to laugh. An unlikely alliance, it was a wrinkled old woman named Ruth who helped me forgive.

When she died, I knew I would leave the island, and the whispers said Santa Fe and I listened and drove across the country to a place I had never been to, to a place where I knew no one. To a place where there is no ocean, yet the sky is vast and beautiful and ever changing. And now I am here, in Galisteo, in Agnes’ sunlit studio.

I have four plates, three drums, a table, two chairs, a bunch of paintbrushes, and now a broken camera. There’s so much I don’t understand, yet I seem to have everything I need. A dear friend gave me a fleece blanket to keep me warm and some silverware with a leopard print on it which makes me laugh every time I sit down to eat.

I feel it, the familiar tugging in my right ear, something is stirring, speaking, and my swearing and whining clutters it up. Then I am quiet, really quiet, so still, until the rafters clatter and I am with Agnes and Ruth and I know what I will do before I am even conscious of it. I pull off the hanging lens, walk through the side door, step out onto the earth into the whispering song of grandmother cottonwood just ahead. She’s large, looming, an ancient tree, she was surely here when Agnes was. Leaves vociferous, the wind is her breath is mine. I take photographs of her branches, the singing, the ground below, bits of golden brown green.

Yes now you are listening.

I get it. Shatter in order to see, it has to be this way. I bow, once, twice, and enter the blurry sublime.


Shatter&See — 3 Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Elisa – really powerful, inspiring and heart-filling. I don’t think we have met, but I am friends with Debra & Frank. Your writing makes me want to meet you! I too came to Santa Fe from the east. I knew 2 people here and neither was accessible (for various reasons). I spent a lot of time alone – but not alone, because the land embraced me so lovingly. I am in transition to moving back east (for various reasons) and have been writing about what this all feels like. Your writing has inspired me to move forward with that writing… Perhaps we can meet before I leave, end of April… Feel free to email me!