Van Gogh’s Shoes

A room in Arles, walls painted yellow,

yellow for faith and love,

for a newly discovered self

stripped to the waist

in the torrid cicada heat,

the chatter of wings rubbing together

as Vincent with a brush dipped in mauve

fading to grey,

mauve for hope

and grey for intelligence, considers painting

a self-portrait, a grey undercoat for the way

it largesses the mind with jars of glistening fruit

and bridges x’d with sacrifice,

crossings he’d made near Antibes

where light slithers along brackish channels

winding south across les Salins,

the great salt plains where a man can disappear

overnight, just evaporate

like standing water. This story

told about Poseidon, earth shaker

and tamer of wild horses; how he rose

storm-faced from the sea in a chariot

pulled by brine-soaked steeds, grey and dappled

like the horses of the Camargue, the mythical ones

women ride in dreams. Perhaps

he should paint a woman dying a red cloth

dipped five times in madder root

and meadowsweet mixed with oak galls and graith

to set the color, the way red,

red for passion, burns when mixed

with chrome yellow

and he remembers a miner in the Borinage

caught in a fire that scarred his forehead

with a crown of thorns, mouth

fitted with a wooden tongue.

He will paint how worn misshapen shoes today

With a brush dipped in burnt umber,

brown the color of service to others.


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