(Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890)
The world mistakes
agitation for vitality.
Suicide for sadness.
It is actually a kind
of fatal disappointment.
Everything fails you:
the flowers do.
The women. God,
too, though the zealots
claim you among them;
the world mistakes
the world sometimes
for divinity. It is
easy with you: blue
& yellow with their audible
pulses. But I see it there,
the trouble with beauty.
The fear that there is nothing
behind the eyes of the stars.
I’ll draw you a picture, he says,
overcome with tears. Soon,
he holds it up: A brown spiral
on the left. This is the past.
A brown spiral on the right.
This is the future. But the future
has a little figure, prone, a line
drawn thick above his body.
He’s buried underground.
In my belly, his brother turns.
I taught him these things, walking
through the graveyard at the end
of our block, told him what the stones
mean, the dark swathes of fresh earth.
I don’t know what the stones mean.
I don’t know anything, and this
will disappoint him someday,
that I brought him choking into air
and set him in the brown cradle
of his spiraling future
without anything but the promise
of milk and a handful of crayons
and words with no more weight
than his wordlessness.
Child, you teach me greed.
This is what I want:
your face, the size of a thumb-
print, the mouth, its opening
as if in speech. Even the white
track of your spine: pickets
in the fence of an imaginary home.
I have just minutes in the dark
like a tourist in a cave where
a holy relic is kept. Greed
seems the least sinful of sins;
to keep the object in her sight,
even the frugal tourist exhausts
her coins into the lightbox.
Colleen Abel is the author of Remake, which won the 2015 Editors Prize from Unicorn Press, and was released in April 2017. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Housewifery and Deviants. A former fellow at UW-Madison's Institute for Creative Writing, her work has appeared in venues such as The Southern Review, Colorado Review, Pleiades, and elsewhere. She is currently a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow. Her website is www.colleenabel.com.