PATH THROUGH A FIELD WITH WILLOWS
Vincent Van Gogh
I did not walk with him that day, but now
I see the painting, and I ask him if
a child had done it—my joke, of course, but
the reds and greens and browns, plain,
and plain blues, plain yellows. A boxy
white house with a plain green door,
a blue cloudy sky. Two square windows
and a window shuttered. And a tall,
brown stump, limbs sawed away
to dirty brown moons. A skinny poplar
by the house. A red roof. A bright green
hedge. Circles and squares. And sharp
black lines in a field. Are those birds?
I ask. Are they crows? Yes, he says,
crows. And grackles too—a fence is
useless for birds. Grackles and crows.
That sounds good, I say, good to the ear, fun
to say, like a children’s song. Did you
sing it as you painted—grackles grackles
crows crows? Did you say, red? Orange?
Also fun, the tongue clucking, slapping
behind the lower teeth, tapping the palate.
Orange. Red. Bright green stems,
bright white flowers. Hush, he says, stop.
I sing paint, he says, and color. And I sing
a thousand gestures of finger and arm—
flex, tilt, lean, pull, twist, bend.
And the sweep of the brush—the friction,
the swish. I sing eyes. I sing sight. I sing,
you, you who joke about my paint,
my house, my windows, my birds. So hush.
Still Life with Apples
Vincent Van Gogh
Autumn 1887—Winter 1887-88
I don’t like cider, he says, but I do like
apples—the imperfect globes,
the dark brown stems, the ridges and dots
of their lives on trees, tree leaves rippling
piebald and shady. And now, autumn,
and apples fall, or workmen in their tall
black boots, and with their gloves, climb
ladders and pick them. A man gave me these.
Stopped me, asked me, and I held my box
and easel up and he opened my pockets
and squeezed them in. And there they are.
When I see apples, he says, I imagine them
filling the air, the sky, and with
the sun, or the moon even—full and quiet—
their apple-life shivering there, wavering
in the green, blue-green, blue, dark blue, violet.
My world becomes an apple world—
hearing apple, breathing apple,
smelling apple and the scent of blossom,
the tang of orchard and twig, the musk of bird,
apple pickers’ sweat and cigarettes,
foot-slick rungs of their wooden ladders.
I think you should become an apple then, I say.
You would look so good all rounded and red.
Though you’d be awfully sour. And mealy.
Thank you, he says. But no, I wouldn’t want to
be an apple. The tight, stiff skin
around me lacking yield, lacking play—
lacking eyes—my only job to be eaten,
baked and eaten, or to rot
and make a mush of it if stepped on.
Have children throw me? Be juggled around
like a circus? Or be pecked by beaks. No.
Though I feel as much sometimes, like
the scraps when cooking is done—seed, mash,
pulp. I do enjoy a crisp or a cake or a cobbler,
puddings and sauce, but I have no time—
and they best serve the eye. And the brush.
I let them still themselves on my table, their
appleness aware of the inevitable end, which
I paint. I give you apple-essence, apple-spirit,
apple-tincture, apple core—ah, oops.
WM Snyder has published poems in The Cape Rock, Atlanta Review, Poet Lore, Folio, Cottonwood, 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, and the 2015 Claire Keyes Poetry Prize. He teaches writing and literature at Concordia College, Moorhead, MN.