Van Gogh’s Dreams by Rayfield A. Waller

Van Gogh’s Dreams

(Psychiatric hospital Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, Remy)
“On occasions he has attempted to poison himself, by swallowing colours used for painting, or by ingesting paraffin, which he had taken from the boy while he was filling his lamps.”
Théophile Peyron, Assylum Master


This, all that’s left of ancient Rome.
A terrible Gallian sky, the feverish airs of Remy.
In these dimming adjoining cells
In the bright bedroom and studio of his own
Paid for by the angel Theo Van Gogh,
Nevertheless the shadow of the bars
Crawl down Vincent’s face.
And Vincent at the window waits
For the dark,
The dusk that soon will descend.
The bright day slackens.

This slowing
Of the light of
Sees him gaze down at
The garden burst
Of keening yellows rioting,
The gavotte of twisting olive trees in
Wind and weakening sunlight,
The ivy, the lilacs
Thrashing their heads in slipping gusts
That caress him as
They whisper to him through the bars.
The irises purple and green
Wheat fields nearby hissing—
Ensemble of noises.

Sun and sky, ablaze before now,
But now the yellow and the red,
The orange and fiery eye,
Dissolving into dusk.


Asleep in the dark he dreams:
Gaugin’s massive black head,
Those teeth of his like knives,
Gaugin on a rampage shouting
Bloody murder, drunk, a foul genius,
Tahitian women riding upon a sturdy back.
He dreams:
Little Lautrec, head wagging
Like a stone on a stick.
Dapper and bespectacled beside Theo,
Theo sad and disappointed,
For his brother is not loved.
He dreams:
A wheeling gang of haggish crows,
Jaws unhinged, cackling over spotted fields
To dash and peck at Vincent’s eyes.
Gathering darkness like a prophecy,
Meteoric stars ignite, spin over his head,
And then his head is alight,
Burning sickly yellow to sear him
With this familiar vision,
Endured in hopelessness.
He dreams:
Pigments, swallowed in desperation.
Not in hope of death at all,
But wanting only
To consume every color of
The Creation,
To cool this fire, to finally drown
This terrible thirst.

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Rayfield A. Waller. Detroit, Michigan, United States. Waller is a poet, cultural critic, labor activist, and political journalist who is a professor of literature, history, and the social sciences at Wayne State University and Wayne County Community College in the postindustrial city of Detroit, Michigan.

3 Replies to “Van Gogh’s Dreams by Rayfield A. Waller”

    • Vincent was not crazy, her was poor. Those who never suffered poverty might mistake it’s profound effects for insanity. Such was the prejudice suffered by my little brother, Reginald Waller, a genius, but he was poor and that is what crushed him, while I survived. I know therefore how Theo must have felt.

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