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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 13: May 2022
Poem: 140 words [R]
By Robbi Nester

Van Gogh’s Ear

Normality is a paved road. It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.
—Van Gogh [attributed]
What else would he be doing besides 
standing in a dark field listening to 
a carillon of stars vibrate in the night 
sky’s vaulted chapel or wavering in 
the darkened surface of a river? 
He’d stumble on the unpaved path, 
wishing the spirits would be silent. 
They’d rise in choruses out of the trees, 
the grass, the thick green stalks of irises 
and sunflowers, wheat fields after 
the harvest, trilling like tree frogs, 
an orchestra of light, impelling him 
to lay the paint on thick, impasto, 
to shout in loud blues and yellows 
from the canvas. The spirits rap 
on the small drum of his tympanic 
membrane; he harvested his ear 
to make it stop. Prophesy is a burden. 


—Published previously in The Inflectionist Review (Issue 12, March 2021); appears here with poet’s permission.


Publisher’s Note:

Epigraph above is widely attributed online to Vincent van Gogh, but without specifying the actual source. This quotation does not appear in the latest edition (2009) of Van Gogh’s letters.

The sentence “Normality is a well-paved street; it is good for walking—but no flowers will grow there” does appear on the inner flap of the dust jacket of Vincent Van Gogh: Between Earth and Heaven, the Landscapes (KunstMuseum, Basel; publisher: Hatje Cantz; 2009). Although attributed to van Gogh, it does not include the specific source, unlike other quotations in the book.

Robbi Nester
Issue 13, May 2022

is the author of four books of poetry, including an ekphrastic chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012), and three collections: Narrow Bridge (Main Street Rag, 2019), Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017), and A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014). She has also edited three anthologies: The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014); Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees, which was published as a special issue of Poemeleon Journal; and The Plague Papers, recently published online at Poemeleon Journal. Her poems, reviews, essays, and articles have appeared widely in journals and anthologies, including Aeolian Harp VI, Book of Matches, Cultural Daily, Gargoyle, Live Encounters, Muddy River Review, North of Oxford, Rhino, Tampa Review, Tiferet, Verdad, and Verse-Virtual. She is an elected member of the Academy of American Poets.

Author’s website: www.robbinester.net

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

After Blossom, ekphrastic poem after an etching by Phil Greenwood in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 3, May 2020)

Three Poems by Robbi Nester in Verse-Virtual (January 2020)

Law of Attraction, ekphrastic poem after Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, in Verse-Virtual (May 2019)

Night Tunnel, ekphrastic poem after a painting by Robert Rhodes, Philadelphia Night Train, in The Ekphrastic Review (21 April 2016)

The Locusts, ekphrastic poem after a collage of the same name by Mary Boxley Bullington, in The Ekphrastic Review (13 October 2015)

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