Back to Issue Forty-Six

Dear Vincent


“The weather here is changeable, often windy with turbulent skies, but the almond trees are beginning to flower everywhere.” — Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh
Arles, c. 14 March 1888


I have visited the quay again, now that
the dark loses so quickly. By the Rhone,
a baby kisses my hand, the halo of his mother’s cheek.
Today, in the shadow of a passing crowd, I learn
how water refuses simple language: brother, flotsam, color.
Spoiled, it was, against the clumsy syllables—
such is the habit of everything close to God.
Instead, I watch carefully, how it clings to faces
I have known and loved. The bold wind touches
my son’s head, his hair washed. It could have been you,
I thought. Above, a trim of snow-bright trees embracing
the whole labyrinth of Arles, quiet and burgeoning
in the scattered night—here, I avoid
the steepled hands of churches, and the roofs keep
their white foilings, stripped branches forgotten
by wintering birds. This is what you must have seen
in the city. No touching secret, or the footsteps of an infinite host.
That avoidance is everywhere worries me. How light
should be an exception but still I forage for it—
turning away from the wetlands towards the city,
its forked corridors a familiar landscape
of yellow. You loved them all equally, didn’t you? I want to ask
you, these unsettling questions. Who will answer
in the same way? Where I find the old truths,
lidded in prayer. The cafe in burnt ochre
that you spoke of so often, our shared blood.
Those same unusable shades, years ago,
that you painted my face with. Instead, in the dream
where we are walking above water, you brush
the green leaves of a dying branch. Relics of vibrancy,
turning to me now. But what do I know
of company in the twilight hours? I am grateful
for the almond blossoms, their pale heads
spilling in through the window
two mornings after I last saw you. The wind had awakened
in the false warmth. A smear of that thickness on my cheeks—
paint, nothing else.

Yong-Yu Huang is a Taiwanese writer who grew up in Malaysia. Her work is featured in Waxwing, The Offing, and The Penn Review, among others. She is the recipient of the 2021 Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize.

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