The Window at Arles
Even the moon set him going, with its blank stare;
even the walls of the café, which seemed to tilt
and sway as he watched them, green with absinthe.
"It is a wonderful thing to draw a human being."
All night, Van Gogh painted, and then scraped paint from the easel;
the stiff sound of palette knife on canvas,
scratching, made him think of a hungry animal.
Women came and posed.
"It is a wonderful thing to paint a human being, something
that lives," he told Theo; "it is confoundedly difficult,
but after all it is splendid."
When the money for models ran out,
he bought plaster casts of hands and hung them
from the crossbeams of his room,
and woke to the sound of their knocking in the wind.
One night Van Gogh sat in a chair, staring.
Brush in one hand, milk saucer in the other.
The tea was weak. Nothing came. In the morning,
one of his models brought bread and cheese
and made him eat. That afternoon,
he broke the plaster casts, banging hand into hand
until he stood in a storm of dust, coughing.
When he worked he felt a scratch at his calf,
a scarlet wound, a whoop of blood. He was hungry;
even his eyes were hungry.
All he saw was red: red snow, red legs of women
in the village rues, red pinwheels of hay.
"It is a wonderful thing
to hurt a human being, something
that lives. It is confoundedly difficult, but after all it is splendid."
Beyond the shadow, a cave opened
in the trees and led into emptiness,
a yellow you couldn't quite see an end to.
Van Gogh walked into it,
and his body began to shake. It was a color-riot.
He could hear, somewhere, a dog
thumping its tail in the dark.
"How splendid yellow is!" he said.
Color was electricity, it turned you blind
if you got hold of it.
It turned you blind if something cold
got hold of you and blistered.
Walls falling toward you.
When you turn color into a weapon,
something gets left over:
a charred body.
What you must do is take the plaster
and turn it to praise
as light turns grass in the evening
into fear gone blind into the hunt.
O'Rourke, Meghan "The Window at Arles" The Best of the Best American Poetry: 25th Anniversary Edition. Pinsky, Robert, ed. New York: Scribner Poetry, 2013. 170-1.