The 2River View  

Ellen KombiyilListen

Excerpt from Vincent Van Gogh’s Journal, Saint-Remy 1889

(with four lines adapted from Letters to Theo)

I can’t get it down—exactly how I feel
when I see the cypresses. Oh, the colors
are there, stark, arranged like music.
I paint canvas after canvas
hoping the metal band won’t tighten
around my head.

I want to paint the time I walked with Theo
down the Rijswijk Road and we drank milk
at the mill after the rain. I’d paint it all green
but then how to express what goes unseen,
the taste of milk when I could drink absinthe,
the sound of rain?

I paint roses instead. The canvas
holds them for eternity, not one more
petal will drop against pale green.
Then this morning I saw the country
fresh again and full of flowers. What more
I could have done.


Persephone’s Letter to Demeter

Dear Mother, I have grown pale, my hair
brittle, my fingers like icicles.
I have only myself to blame.
It would have been easy to plan
my escape, to toss accusations like bones,
to hypnotize Cerberus with a song,
to switch his water with a drink from Lethe,
to induce sleep with a potion.
But I have grown numb to this place.

I tried not to stare at the fruit
which shone like rubies on the golden platter.
It beckoned me, promised remembrance,
the earth’s warmth after a long winter thaw.
When my teeth split the seeds and their juice
startled my mouth, I felt blood again
flush my brow. I remembered thunder, picking
a flower, the yawning, swallowing ground—
the fruit wasn't sweet; it tasted like erasure.