William Snyder has published poems in Atlanta Review, Poet Lore, and Southern Humanities Review among others. He was the co-winner of the 2001 Grolier Poetry Prize; winner of the 2002 Kinloch Rivers Chapbook competition; The CONSEQUENCE Prize in Poetry, 2013; the 2015 Claire Keyes Poetry Prize; Tulip Tree Publishing Stories That Need To Be Told 2019 Merit Prize for Humor; and Encircle Publications 2019 Chapbook Contest. He teaches writing and literature at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN.
L’Arlesienne: Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux
(Marie Julien, 1848-1911), Vincent Van Gogh, 1888-89
they cajoled and coaxed and flattered
and smiled and winked and rubbed
until she couldn’t stand it and she just
gave up. Or she believed their tales, which
I do not believe they believed, though
absinthe ran quick between them. To be
hung in Paris, they’d said, loved by us,
they’d said, forever young, they’d said,
and painted by the handsomest pair in
all of Arles, the charmingest—though one
had a rag beneath his chin and over
an ear. But that Gauguin, she’d said,
and she did like his pirate stripes, black
and red, she did like pirates.
Nom de dieu, she’d said, and she smiled,
said yes, I will come, to get it over with,
and do you have some books to read,
how long will it take, will I sit or stand?
You will sit, Madame, they said, many
good books, they said, and only one hour,
a short little Arles-like hour is all
it will take, and it was, and now, in
V’s painting before me, she sits,
in cobalt blue and black—the costume here—
and a muslin scarf—turquoise-green,
and soft, like a shallow sea, and a lacy
white flower embroidered in a corner,
her black hair curling above her forehead,
her hand to her cheek. By the look on her face—
her chalk-dark skin, her eyelids orange,
and her lips, orange too, and tight together—
she must have been thinking: I can’t
read these books, the pages crinkled
and bent, the covers tattered. And I hate
this orange chair. I understand her. I don’t
blame her. But oh, the wonder of your face,
Madame, the wonder of what it took.
Bedroom in Arles
Vincent Van Gogh, 1888
His bedroom—the heavy, oak bed,
the wooden chairs, the little table with
a porcelain pitcher and bowl, sweetsmelly
water in two small jars, the damp towel
by the door to the toilet, pegs
with blue shirts hanging, and a shelf
with a yellow hat—which he hardly wears.
But I ask him: why not flowers, or a lane, or
wheat again, or the sea or boats
or mountains or vineyard women
in veils? Why your room? It is stable,
he says. Stationary, and under a sturdy roof.
A sanctuary. And the floor is swept—you swept it
yourself. I need stability to hold to.
So he’ll paint his room, and with his
brushes, of course—china bristle,
flats and filberts, brights and rounds. And
he’ll lose a bristle with a stroke sometimes,
then pick it from the paint and flick it, or
he’ll rub it on his trousers, or his jacket,
and it will dry. I have found those bristles
on the floor, even on the grass outside.
And I have gathered them. I’ll find more now,
when I sweep, and I’ll collect them too, one
at a time, and lay each one in a fold
of a cotton cloth, and later, at night, place them
on my bed, the blanket drawn down, the sheet
white and flat, and I’ll take the softest sable
and roll it back and forth between
my fingertip and thumb, feel its tiny heft,
then hold it by its narrow end, stand before
the mirror, tilt in close and draw it across my eye—
the cornea, the sclera white—feel it
gripped by moisture there, the gentle
viscosity of tears beginning to well.
And I will cry for these bristles—that were
once his brush, his voice, his eyes.