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Self Portrait as Van Gogh

Aileen Xie

CAS for Database

San Jose, California, USA

Leland High School


orchestrating harsh light / the summer mirage

        beats the already tanned membrane of

          a laboring painter, whose

hands,       ashy; crusted; scarred—

(like thinning bristles of the red sable? bark of an overworked aisle?)

         —draw splintered brushes along sallow veins /

two connected limbs, working as one to

                        create flame.

watch the campfire whiplash : declaring itself

        the bastard child of a ruthless sun.

into the infernal vessel, its perpetual motion: the thing man

wanted to invent but never did—

        a canvas of contusions, hemp fabric blooming darkly,

each brushstroke unfolding into itself as / flames greedily lap linseed oils,

          the choking substance feeding into damnation.

melanin fading into memory, time

         shifting desire into distance, in the same way

a missing ear yearns for re-attachment; in the same way

       a cursed appetite, digesting acrylic as food,

yearns for medicine (mistaken as overdose);

in the same way her eyes yearn for sleep.

       as she waits / she swallows a kaleidoscope of

paints, hoping to taste something reminiscent

of promises. Promises of childhood,

of miracle.

observe the screaming, observe

the swiftness of palette knives cutting painted cloth

                         (intentional bullets piercing flesh)

observe madness engulfing her like the fire embraced her forsaken children.

                        observe, but // say nothing.


Observe but say nothing: this poem leaves its readers speechless, and all we can do is watch. “Self Portrait as Van Gogh” presents the strange irony of an act of creation that simultaneously destroys the artist as her obsession dissolves into madness. Imagery of the sun, sharp structure, and an erratic rhythm send heat leaping off the page, yet there’s something dark going on beneath all that brightness.

Aileen Xie is a visual artist and writer from California. Ever since she could pick up a pencil, she had loved to draw and write, finding platforms for expression and self-reflection in the creative arts. She will be graduating high school in 2022 and hopes to carry on her literary and artistic passions.


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