Bernadette Murphy's recent book, Van Gogh's Ear: the True Story, inspired this poem.
Van Gogh's Ear
I am not here. Already I’ve moved out
from studio to street, from charcoal grey
into chrome orange and cochineal,
from yellow house to whorehouse. Gabrielle,
that poor maid, mops the floor
the painted ladies pockmark with scuffed heels.
I pity her bare arms, her rabid flesh
scarred by the cauterising iron,
and pull her by the wrist into the light,
the burning light of cobalt blue Provence.
I place a ragged parcel in her hands.
She shudders and says nothing, but receives
the gift with grace, clutching it to her breast
in reverence, and I am like a god —
I’m Jesus Christ, and gentle Gabrielle
is Mary Magdalene. I stagger through
the blinding streets of Arles and cross the Rhône,
rave in the cornfields just beyond the town.
Vermilion blood runs down my cheek like tears.
But I’m not here. I have already flown
by crow’s path over waving cypresses
and under whirling stars I lay me down.