Preserving the Balance

“I’m working in the hospital or its surroundings.”
—Vincent van Gogh to Paul Signac, April 1889

The Japanese call the blossom momo—
rows of fragrant peach, pink and white
beside a thoughtful canal. Echoes of Signac
drift in violet clouds above the town
which sidles into countryside
pretends to look the other way.

Leafless poplars cross the canvas
like the bars of an asylum.
The noonday Angelus calls the labourer
to drop his spade, mumble words
as he unwraps bread and cheese
unplugs his stone carafe of wine.

Vincent favours his own redemption—
a joyful brush of ochre sunshine warms
the farmhouse wall. If he gets it right
he may show he’s keeping a certain
steadiness in uncertain times. His brother
marries Jo in Amsterdam while the artist

paints the symbol of his sanity for Dr Rey
(who deals in symptoms, not daubs)
and with any luck the mayor of Arles
who reads from the petition before him—
Van Gogh is not yet a threat to public safety,
but there are fears he may become so.


Link to painting
View of Arles, flowering orchards, 1889