Three Poems by Sara Henning
The Mulberry Tree (1889)
Olive Trees with Les Alpilles (1889)
Initially Van Gogh’s health improved at Saint-Paul, but two months after his arrival, in mid-July 1889, he succumbed to a sudden attack . . . Dr. Peyron reported to Theo that Vincent had tried ‘to poison himself with his brush and paints.’ Van Gogh vomited, but his throat then become very badly swollen. For four days he was in agony and unable to eat, and even a month later he still fond it painful to swallow.
Try to grasp the essence of what the great artists, the serious masters, say in their masterpieces, and you will again find God in them.—Vincent van Gogh
Near Trabuc’s farmhouse, off the grounds
of Saint-Paul asylum, did you call them
olives or little wounds—pits slick in the gut,
lush drupes taunting the air? You watch
starlings clutch up their darkness.
Imagine it, Vincent, throating pleasure
straight from the tree. Heat smites you
down like God or a woman: murmuration
of brusque birds haunting you.
Would you call any of it prayer?
June beetles prostrate in ribbons of grass,
thoraxes rich as chrome tourmaline.
Cicadas ricochet with red jade eyes.
Grass grafts its soul to Mount Gaussier,
gold-etched clouds churn sleek
ouroboros. Even wind is sermon,
fantasy lashing the rash, silvering leaves.
Feverish, you paint this Gethsemane.
Come July, you’ll take every agony
of color in your mouth, raid your stash
of acrylics, your esophagus churning
red lake, yellow ochre. You’ll exhale
starlings, olives, beetles like flames
in the grass. Color will glitz
your hyoid bone. Your pharynx
blooms. Throat chawed by chemical burn,
you’ll starve for days, nightmares
thrashing their jagged leather through you.
All summer you’ll rapture through
suicide’s clutch. Do you think of olives,
those musk pearls? Pleasure straight
from the tree. Do you hold them in your mind,
Vincent, like betrayal, like anything
so beautiful you can’t look away—
Mount Gaussier, clouds rushing, starlings
iridescent as they plunder and burn?