Konch Magazine - Six Poems on Van Gogh by A.B. Spellman

Van Gogh In Arles
 
Dear Theo
 
locked away
i have found my freedom
in this asylum i am safe from the arlesians
who threw stones & horse pies at me
as i sketched them on the streets
 
paul is gone
he was supposed to deepen my eye
lengthen my view give reach to my name
instead gauguin has taught me
that lunatics are better company than artists
they know more see deeper & never turn away
did he ever claim the half-ear i left for him
with the pimp at the brothel door?
 
at last i have a community that lives with me
in the unexalted state of alone
from which i paint & write to you
 
the air here is thick but clear
the gardens are true in their wildness &
filled with sympathetically gnarled forms to draw
my mind now knows that it is lost
& so my sight is free to catch the abstract
twisted motion of things & beings at risk
i send to you now The Roots which holds
these shapes & Cypresses whose green leaf flames
are like the poplars i shipped before
 
theo this rich night sky combusts all over
the crescent moon goes yellow
to teal to azure with the planets &
clouds that swirl their ballet for me
 
 
dear brother you well know my love
for women is more dense than renoir’s
for i do not see them as lit from within
to some milky purity that never catches dirt
their beauty is lustworthy
hard life cuts as many furrows in their faces
as it does in mine
 
some days i think the impressionists wrong
the world is more than placid light
i tell you theo i tried pointillism
but the colors of the day
do not blend harmoniously or decorate
each other into glorious songs
of sight as seurat preaches
they wrestle & thrash wage war & mate
with a cacophony i swear i can almost hear
still gauguin wants a constant image
that neither begins nor ends
monet wants no texture to his surface
to corrupt the touch
that spreads his sun upon the pond
degas dreams vermeer & his glassine canvas
oh i know how stratified his surface is
glazed wet on dry at six levels
but damn edgar show us what roils you
scream the image man
they all want the anonymous brush
but there’s a burning truth
in my impasto for it lets my pilgrim work
his frantic hand into the stroke
 
clear pristine light is blindness theo
the flames are all
 
that’s what the others missed
 
The Van Gogh Suite
after Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
 
Van Gogh In England
 
the mad mute pilgrim in van gogh
dreamed always of roads & pulled him
toward he never knew what
so he named the object of his quest “it!”
                        .
vincent read bunyan & carlyle on pilgrims
but it was kempis’ Imitation of Christ
whose phrase swallowed him
“rejoice in misery” “in misery rejoice”
                         .
at three miles an hour he walked from ramsgate
to london & on in all the queer weather england made
his shoes tore up his clothes were rags
he looked untamed he must have stunk
                         .
van gogh saw the city on a hill at every turn
but never found a way to enter as one cursed truth rose
inside him: he had walked into the state of alone
which neither vincent nor his pilgrim could exalt
 
 
Van Gogh In The Black Country
 
the borinage was the black country
for coal & the comprehensive refuse of coal
coal air coal dust black water
toxic soil indelible serpentine tattoos
etched by coal into the skin of the miners
slag heaps posed as mountains against the horizon
 
they called the coal-blackened women “false negresses”
even after the “denoirissement” of their baths
ancient children who snaked through crevices
where coal veins hid were never seen to smile

vincent
cleaned and pressed for once
arrived in the borinage
foolish
& departed mad
 
his guidebook image of the borin
was that they sang
their way to & from
the mines
praised god in blessing
as they cut their bread
he would be their catechist
 
but the borin  were so whipped
they envied the pit horses
that lived their entire lives
in the steaming offal
of the earth
for their constant oats
& clean straw

vincent preached
why are you resentful?
yes death hides everywhere
in the mines but where
does death not hide?
death is the route to heaven
be glad of its imminence
 
he renewed his pilgrimage
at the bottom of the earth
past the pit head “up in hell”
rode the cables down a chasm
so deep ‘”the daylight…
at the top of the shaft dwindled
to a spot as small as a star in the sky”
stooped his way through barren tunnels
in water deep enough to flood his0 boots
crawled through flammable air
into tiny cul de sacs where dismal men chipped
at veins three inches thick
 
vincent preached
why whine
about your fourteen-hour days?
to the marxists who would have you strike
say jesus was like me “a workman  with lines
of suffering & sorrow & fatigue on his face”
be like him
rejoice in misery
 
the borin thought that the dumbest shit
they’d ever heard

did you unearth your madness
in the black pits vincent?
that day the mine blew
did the vestiges of your sanity
erupt in satanic flames &
char to dust the sorting girls &
the pick ax men & the saint
you’d learned you never were?
 
but you nursed
survivors angelically
it was the best of you
we ever saw 

mortify
vincent
abjure the sinful
vanity of the bath
eat stale discarded crusts
rag your clothes again
go barefoot through winter
sleep in the hay & wake up
covered in frost
rejoice in misery vincent
mortify
 
 
Self Portrait, 1887
 
 
this my face
describes
the mythic tragedy
of mirrors
 
i have set my portrait
in the expressive gestures
of the brush no flat space disputes
the inherent violence of sight
 
i did not pretend it was god’s surface
smooth & clean & classic like degas’
but laid it enlever mottled
so no moment of your inspection
is serene
 
this face was not crafted in thoughtful sequences
 
nothing is tranquil
not my rough wool coat not
the leopard-skin background
not the blaze that spreads from my beard
to my lobe & up into the hair that i cut myself
there is a nervous light
across my forehead that dims its way
down the line of my nose
where the inner conflagration the nostril vents
soon will set my head on fire
 
i have known the hell of burning
all my life but the goddamned mirror
will not let me call it peace
 
 
the topology here is parlous
a rufous absinthe mound rises
below the promontory eyebrows
to shade green viper eyes
that condemn you for the pretense
of your quietude
 
                   …
 
quietude
i set out to paint the  eyes of a bonze
in profound meditation
but the glass could not find them
& offered mine instead
it knows what lives
inside those orbs & the scathing light
that flares out of them
& why they are at home
in a face on fire
 
Vincent In Love 1
 
(Vincent:)
i’ve decided
i will love kee vos
 
my father dorus’
church is all over me
it’s in my beard
in the nap of my tweed
in my shoes
in my eye
i can’t be dorus
without a wife
i’ve decided
i will love kee vos
 
(Kee Vos:)
what does
the village creep
want of me?
i swear something fell
that wants to suck
the marrow
from my soul
stares out at me
from those recessed green eyes
 
(Vincent:)
“a man cannot stick it out
in the open sea” alone
cousin kee you are bereft
& i am lonely
to be respectable
i require a wife
we share a misery 
with god’s own son
(same stanza)
& that is warmth enough
i’ve decided kee vos
you will give me the love
your husband died under
 
(Kee Vos:)
my husband just interred
& this freak wants my hand?
he will support me
with salable art? 
he compares
his babbling letters
with lark song
& writes of love
as if it were a bulb
one buys 
plants in autumn &
harvests in spring
“never never no never”
 
(Vincent)
i am expert
at losing myself
in the gauzy environs
of rampant imagination
boundless & sliding
downward
toward a ruined bliss
that releases me to
all the hurt
that absence brings
this i name love
if it’s  derangement
i answer to derangement
to the dementia
of the unloved lover
who can’t take love
(same stanza)
because it will not cower
 
kee my right hand
cooks on the wick
i will char it to the bone
if you do not come to me
 
Vincent In Love 2
 
 
i have drawn sien hoornik in left profile
nude & seated no huddled on a stump
her arms are wrapped
around her face to hide the smallpox scars
from you who are callous enough to stare
at so pitiful a form
the back of her head
peaks above a dead horizon
life is scant around her
 
sien’s back is bent & warmed by greasy uncombed hair
the long black nipples that i love dangle to her thighs
where a belly roll supports the wide black aureoles
that pride deserted long before this thirty-third year
her elbows rest upon her knees
read the inelegant hand
that emerges between arm & thigh
as failed strength
 
this is a body whose force was depleted
by half a life of tricking on the streets
of the hague
by the children
she cannot love
by the clap she shared
with me
bad liquor cigars & the street worker’s syntax
that sanded her voice to a scraping growl
are enwrapped in those arms
no i will not show you
(same stanza)
her face for you will not see the same sublime image
that i recognize from delacroix’ Mater Dolorosa
you will not see the sacred virgin who
cowers within the folds of this woman
whose spirit ii have watched decompose
to pussien’s virgin
do not despair
i board a fugitive pilgrim
he knows how to navigate the blind tunnels
of corroded souls
he will rescue you
 
 
What They Said About Van Gogh In Dordrecht
 
“not an attractive boy
hair stood up on end
homely freckled face
crooked mouth
 
[his family] did not know what to do with the boy
drowsy at work
wooly
rough
nervous hands
a putterer
when he had to give ladies …advice about the prints
he paid no attention to his employer’s interests
but said explicitly & unreservedly what he thought
 of their artistic value
futureless
 
[hanging prints in his rented room] he drove nails ruthlessly
into the good wallpaper
 
lived like a saint
frugal like a hermit
ate like a penitent friar
strict piety was at the core of his being
 
always alone
singularly silent
he had no intercourse with anybody
charming strangeness
a queer fish
not like a normal man
out of his mind
cracked needs a jolly heart”