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for the 21st century


Gayl Teller


While one visitor sees Van Gogh’s self-portrait

on a vast wall, upside down,

sinking into the sea as a sunset,

another sees that face reflected on the floor,

right side up, rising from the water

as a well-fed seabird,

and another sees those eyes sliding

across a visitor’s chest as she moves

across a glass globe in reflection,

while another sees her own eyes

mirrored back from a glass prism tower

as her eyes merge with Van Gogh’s—

maybe Van Gogh, too, had a different experience

each time he looked at one of his portraits,

incompleting the painting each time he looked—

as those masked, sitting in socially distanced

pandemic circles, see this moving portrait uniquely,

whether they’re lying down, leaning left or right,

whether turning their heads, or on their heels,

whether watching the fractured features as the face

projects across a jagged, reflective sculpture,

or carrying that fractured face away on themselves,

unawares, on their own body surfaces,

in this shifting kaleidoscope of Van Gogh brush strokes

actively painting across every surface of 3 vast rooms,

across the floors, across the walls, across the ceilings,

as each room opens into each other’s changing vistas,

brush strokes creating and recreating his irises as they bloom,

his sunflowers as they enclose me, my hmmm

hmmming like a buzzing bee’s on the sweets,

and visitors are bending with his potato eaters,

sitting with his card players, stretching up

into his cypress trees, winging over

rippling red-green waters with his birds,

as the arches of the Arles asylum, where

he was committed as fractured, go swimming

in multiple directions all around the room,

and the floor is rising in shimmering rivulets

with music embedded in the vibrant colors,

then falling into the starry night cosmos swirling

all around no absolute perspective,

as old faces are melting into young faces,

into dazzling hues in creation’s fluid universe,

where visitors are turning into paintings,

entering the fidelity of otherworldly dimensions,

where paintings are all process in motion,

and visitors are all painters with their own

moving perspectives, shifting realities,

and millions keep participating across the US,

across Italy, across Brussels, across the UK,

with the man who died penniless, obscure,

because being alive means eyes need to brush

with branches of light and resounding colors

so they might sing in art’s glorious hills.

Gayl Teller, a former Nassau County Poet Laureate for 2009-11 and the Walt Whitman Birthplace 2016 Poet of the Year, is the author of 7 poetry collections, most recently, Flashlight: New and Selected Poems (WordTech, Cherry Grove, 2019) and editor of 2 poetry anthologies, most recently, Corona (Walt Whitman Birthplace, 2020). Winner of many poetry awards, she teaches at Hofstra U. and directs the Mid-Island Y JCC Poetry Series.