Bedroom in Arles (1889) by Vincent van Gogh1
“...the walls pale lilac, the floor in a broken and faded red, the chairs and
the bed chrome yellow, the pillows and the sheet very pale lemon green, the blanket
blood-red, the dressing-table orange, the washbasin blue, the window green. I had
wished to express utter repose with all these very different tones....”
—Letter 706, Vincent van Gogh to Paul Gauguin, October 18882
The artist finds repose between lilac walls
abed on a sea of lime green linens though
the light of the hot sun of Arles warped
by the green-glassed windowpane might
make anyone’s mind tilt like the strange
angles of wall to floor—perspective
of cramped places nudging up against
the Japanese simplicity in the faded floorboards—
the spartan furnishings—wabi-sabi personified—
the anchor being the blanket of course,
red-blood flushing through arteries,
gushing, being sopped up by images
coursing through bundles of neurons—
flashing orange as the wash stand,
orange as the setting suns of Provence,
orange as chrome yellow of chairs
churning on his mind’s palette,
mixing there into the startling red
of his suddenly bloody hands.
“Here are the expenses.... Paid...to the nurses who dressed the wound, 10 Fr....
Paid for having all the bedding, bloodstained linen &c laundered, 12,5...”
—Letter 736, Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, January 18893
The quotations before and after the poem are from
Vincent van Gogh to Paul Gauguin in 1888 and to Vincent’s brother Theo in
1889. The artist had sliced his ear in December 1888 after a row with Paul Gauguin
and a misunderstanding with his brother that had left him despondent.
Correspondence from and to van Gogh can lend insight into his paintings, and I was
struck in this series of letters by his explanation to Gauguin of what he was trying
to represent in his choice of colors in his paintings of his room in Arles. The comments
about how he was attempting to recreate the tranquility of Japanese décor by his
combination of primary colors and simple furnishings when juxtaposed with his nonchalant
listing of expenditures that included medical and cleaning costs associated with his
mutilation a month previous struck a chord with me.
So I attempted in this lineated poem to move from the “repose” of his
painting to the chaos by focusing first on the orange chair and then the red blanket,
which, perhaps subconsciously, he had referred to as “blood-red,” ending up
with the final image of his bloody hands. Interestingly enough, this transition was not
my goal from the outset, but something that crept up on me as I wrote, looked at the
paintings, and read and reread the letters.
latest poetry collection is Mouth Brimming Over (Blue Cedar Press, 2019). Stage Whispers (Meadowlark Books, 2018) won the 2019 Nelson Poetry Book Award. Amanuensis Angel (Spartan Press, 2018) comprises ekphrastic poems inspired by modern artists’ depictions of angels. His first book, Music I Once Could Dance To (Coal City Press, 2014), was a 2015 Kansas Notable Book. He recently co-edited (with Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg) Kansas Time+Place: An Anthology of Heartland Poetry (Little Balkans Press, 2017). His poetry has been nominated for Pushcart (2015 and 2020) and Best of the Net (2018) awards, and was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2019.
Beckemeyer serves on the editorial boards of Konza Journal and River City Poetry. A retired engineer and scientific journal editor, he is also a nature photographer who, in his spare time, researches the mechanics of insect flight and the Paleozoic insect fauna of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama. He lives in Wichita, Kansas, where he and his wife recently celebrated their 60th anniversary.
Please visit author’s
website for more information about his books, as well as
links to interviews
and readings (scroll down his About page for the link-list).
The Color of Blessings in MacQueen’s Quinterly
(Issue 5, October 2020)
Featured Artist in KYSO Flash (Issue 12, Summer 2019);
showcasing Beckemeyer’s poetry, prose poetry, and insect photography
Words for Snow, a prose poem in KYSO Flash (Issue 9,
Spring 2018), which was selected for reprinting in The Best Small Fictions