Self Portrait as Van Gogh
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
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,
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR