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Bedroom in Arles
Vincent Van Gogh, oil on canvas, 1888
by Nancy Scott

I arrived in February. The light in Arles is luxurious;
not much to be said for the city: the brothels, the filth,
the absinthe. I have rented a room idly painted in azure,
some might say like the sky when sun burns off the haze,
but not to my liking. I would have preferred it white
a blank canvas, so I could color it with my imaginings.

They are overcharging me, and I want to take
my brush to these walls, these doors, in retaliation.
I have brought few of my belongings from Paris;
this room is stripped bare of all but necessity,
portraits of people, uninvited, stare down at me,
constantly disapproving. I am seldom here.

Each day when I awake, I wash up in the small basin,
glance in the mirror and opt to flaunt my disheveled beard.
In this city, no one will notice. I stroll for hours through
the streets and out into the countryside, where the color
is so intense, so vibrant: mauves, yellows, ultramarines,
fields verdant with spring…

I am overcome, and return to my room, faint with exhaustion.
What do I find? No refuge here. By early evening,
the blue walls, thick and indifferent, begin to press in on me,
forcing me out again toward the absinthe,
an indulgence I already regret. Tomorrow, I will look
to rent a small studio, where I can finally begin to paint.


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