My cat Sam meows underfoot in the doorway
and follows me outside, until I startle him
by lifting a plastic shower curtain off the ground.
His sudden dash the other way makes me aware
of what a ridiculous bulky bundle it makes;
he does not understand what I am doing.
I think of how he eats and demands attention,
chases lizards and wrestles with the vacuum hose,
much more concrete activities than carrying
a shower curtain in from drying in the sun,
and I wonder at the abstract, complex things I do,
at how much of my behavior must surprise him.
There is no proper way to feel this moment,
the penetrating shock when breathing stops.
He stares at the face of the one he loves,
seeing the color changes caused by her death.
On impulse, he gets paints and does a study,
translating what he views into pigments
as he does in his daily routine of work,
seeing successions of blue, yellow, gray.
His rhythm of life brought into this scene
helps him set aside unbearable grief
until the painting captures her features
and he stops, disturbed by what he has done.
I saw this painting reproduced in a book
and quickly turned the page to something else.
I’m no good at swimming,
but there’s a raft in the Briceland pond
that’s usually blown against the shore,
two logs with a deck of old boards.
I pole it to the middle of the pond.
I’m nude, which is usually okay here.
People have been coming and going,
but right now I’m alone with her.
She was swimming with her boyfriend
just a few minutes ago, got dressed,
and now she’s back, sitting on the grass,
talking to me. We haven’t talked much
since those few nights last December.
She takes off her blouse and smiles at me.
I slip off one end of the raft,
hiding my reaction in the water.
I didn’t see her taking off her pants.
A few moments later, I feel the warmth
of her breasts and belly pressed against
my back in the cool water.
I turn to face her watery kiss.
We couple in the water,
hanging onto the raft’s projecting logs,
brief but sensual, finishing just before
someone else arrives to take a swim.
At a wedding party up China Creek,
the bride’s ex-boyfriend Tom played guitar
and sang some Grateful Dead songs
like he was the outlaw in the lyrics.
I met some other rough-looking men.
One of them, Michael, who wore thick glasses,
peppered every sentence with the “F” word.
He was with a worn-out looking woman
named Bonnie, and several young children.
None of the men related to these children
except to say shut up or go away.
One of the little boys looked bewildered
when I politely answered his question,
as if surprised any man would do this.
I’m trying to concentrate.
Instead, I find
I’m diffusing rapidly.
Paul Gauguin sought answers in Tahiti,
but only found new ways to paint his doubt.
The young girls who were his models and lovers
didn’t understand his paintings.
Since he had no more money for canvas,
he painted his composition on burlap—
two women contemplating a baby,
a couple watched by a faceless youth,
a woman walking behind an idol,
a man plucking fruit, a woman near death.
In the corner, he painted his title,
“Where do we come from?
What are we?
Where are we going?”
These tranquil figures have no answers.
Love, sympathy, isolation, uncertainty.
After finishing, the painter took arsenic,
believing that the problems of his life
required a permanent solution—
but he took too much, vomited out the poison,
and after a night in endless agony,
woke to another dawn in paradise.
Still alive and nursed by his present girl,
he blamed his bad attitude on Europe,
and vowed to fill his pictures with golden light.
When Theo brought Vincent into the room
where his infant son lay in the cradle,
Johanna saw tears swell in both men’s eyes,
grief for the family the artist had wanted
but long since given up hope of having.
She had no idea what to expect
from this man just released from asylum,
the man who wrote her husband almost daily,
whose pictures not only covered their walls
but filled every possible storage space.
The Vincent she saw seemed lively and centered.
She wrote about finding him looking at
his works on the walls early next morning,
caught an image of him spreading all his
unframed canvases on the floor to study.
I was feeling something like that grief
of Vincent Van Gogh released from the asylum
looking at his brother’s wife and baby,
when I was in the hospital, watching
Yon and Ama with their new baby, Jessie.
My friends were pairing off, but didn’t see
why I should need to do the same thing.
That counseling group had me all stirred up
about desiring a wife and children.
I was intensely wrestling with words,
trying to make each poem say what it could
in the most elegant possible way.
That poem I wrote about Vincent fit my feelings
about my art, my friends, my jealousy.
copyright © 1977 - 2011 Carl Miller
Drawing, “Buck Gulch”: 1982, colored pencil on Strathmore paper, 12 x 18 inches.