My wife and I recently spent a month in France and one of the highlights was a visit to Arles. I had been there 50 years ago and this re-visit brought back many memories of my own youth and how I have always related to Vincent V an Gogh.
Visitation: Van Gogh, Descending Angels, the Church at Auvers
Perfumed, the dark fetid air before storm
Cauliflower-shaped clouds with pewter edges
And pepper-sized rain drops over the Camargue
A Mistral, then, twisting Van Gogh into the mad Dutchman
Hey Vincent, vous pauvre homme. Think about it.
You could buy this whole stone city with a cartload of your paintings
I like the one with a wooden wagon surrounded by a murder of crows
Toss in the bray, a bargain at any price
Your face Vincent
Dit Moi—You don’t look like a madman
Those eyes poke straight at the essential. You knew even then:
Paint is God’s gift. His hand emerging from the dark grottos of time
I imagined as much at Lascaux, hands guided by
Angels with paleolithic smiles
When I search for meaning, for solid statuesque memories
I look here, into the human crevasse, into gloomy caves
Sheltering smudges of charcoal and red ochre
Ok! Even angels have their doubts
Their wings landlocked,
Frozen in place
Your impact, Vincent. Your
best intentions re-rooted behind
thick brushstrokes, viscous yellow varnish
Unable to fly
Even the angels flounder in impasto colors: pale lilac,
green-citron, gold, Venetian yellow, and cobalt blue
Bleu. Bleu! Always blue. Always wonderous!
Always, you. Lonely heart
How to understand
Is it your flaming red hair
Or too much cheap absinthe
A blood-red line circling
Your chiseled face?
Your penetrating green eyes
Walking up that path to the church at Auvers
I come back to God, yes, slowly
Extending my pale white hand
My brown eyes lingering
All for you
Take him away please
To a happier place
Howling Dog Moon, he said. Tonight
The bay will be full of Dog Sharks.
During Harvest Moon, he further reflected, that’s
The Salmon Moon, the time the Swimmers come home.
On the evening Cal Ripken
Broke baseball’s and Lou Gehrig’s
Consecutive games record,
I picked bull rushes with John Joseph
In knee-deep mud, mired in Young’s Bay
—picked bull rushes
Beside and under a freeway,
Galloping along unsure
Of its true destination
—picked bull rushes as faces
From autos leaned down and found me askance. God,
The questions they asked. Only John knew his purpose:
Bring reeds to Cedar Woman, the old Makah,
Weaver of grass mats.
The sky had molted lavender and gray,
As if winter waited
Lean and wizened on the flank,
An army of gray, a jihad of gray.
Howling Dog Moon, he said
As a full moon
Doused the landscape with glitter,
Flouncing shards of light across
Broken wave tops, jittering
Like Monet brushstrokes.
Late that night I woke to silence.
The vanilla moon was full. I caught the face
And wondered, salmon or dog shark?
Visioned the ringed black eyes
Of the Swimmers.
There, I made a choice: Silverside.
Remembered John bent double
His belly hunkering
Inches above the mud. His pony tail
Ebony going silver.
His face happy.
His eyes far.
Above, the modern world
Slid by, wheels spinning,
Anointed with speed.
Dog sharks, I thought,
Traipsing through rich evergreen boughs
Kwa Gulth moon scrambles between quick-silver rain
Each drop prancing
Like horse hooves on cobblestones
Leaves bend down
And winter breezes linger on our fingertips
You touch them to my lips
I hear the soft-speak of river song
Or is it
That little brown bird
With a black crest
On its tiny, feathered breast
Entertaining me, this troubadour
Playing a wind sonnet like a liberated harpsicord
As moonglow dapples the sweet
Flowing waters of Moon Creek
Dances through watercress and wild celery
Moonglow will soon kiss your eyelids