Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1888:
All I can think about now
is Helen Keller’s heartbeat when she felt
that cold water run over her hand, and how
the dark outside my window bears my own reflection and then
I wonder if I look better in invisibility than in dimension.
Between Helen and I, a million flowers are blooming and
spilling dew onto my fingertips, slow, so
I breathe with caution now.
I ask my mother what her favorite artist is. I ask
if she was scared before the surgery.
I want to know if one lung feels lonely,
if it feels like being one half of a whole.
One sunflower wilting in the snow.
I ask, then if she still believes in love.
I want to know why my father sleeps
In another room now, and has for months.
But I don’t want to know.
So goes the yellow paint down Van Gogh’s throat.
I tell my lover, ‘I love my mother. But I know she is no angel.’
I tell my mother, ‘Helen Keller was ten years old
when Van Gogh shot himself.’
And my mother was ten years old when one lung failed to cooperate any longer.
Van Gogh said, ‘the sadness will last forever,’ a word before his sleep.
And I want to ask my mother if she believes, if she agrees.
I know she would ask if it matters.
So sometimes I tell my lover, ‘nothing matters, anyway.’
And sometimes that is true.
But mostly, what matters is that Vincent
swallowed yellow paint, all lead and sulfur fumes,
And still the braille of his sallow skin
spelled out sadness, sadness.
Mostly what matters is that I call my mother every once in a while,
And listen to her stories, listen to her breathe.
I think of Alan Turing
holding his hand over his heartbeat, and wishing
to be a machine. I think about my mother sleeping
alone in the hospital bed and now in her marriage bed, breathing.
I think of the cigarette burns in her sheets and the
sadness she swallowed with age.
The sadness she’d pass on to her babies, one day.
I think about how Helen
despised having no sign for “love”,
and no lover to teach it to her. I wonder
if love is an ingredient in cadmium yellow oil paint. I wonder
if love is in the flowers that bloom when I look at them; I wonder
if Helen looked like she was blooming,
to anyone around. I wonder if my mother
ever looks at me like I’m blooming.
I wonder if she knows
that this sadness has seemed to last forever.
— Amy V. K. // June 2015