about the author

Joe Mayers is a PhD candidate in literature and creative writing at the University of Utah, where he works as managing editor of Western Humanities Review. His prose has appeared in The Fiddleback and Alice Blue Review.

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If Master Vincent Doesn’t Suicide

Joe Mayers

Van Gogh is carving the signs of unidentified flying objects in thigh high grains. Crop circles. And for you. He’s stacked spare tires in empty milk-crates and punched through each the right kind of holes for a harness for you, a wiry rope slung across his chest for this slow dragging of signs in the landowner’s fields of late summer yellow.

I am home but feign absence. Have set a kind of trap for seeing. Have cut the lights, locked the gates, gated the livestock, let the mail stuff the box full for nearly a week to seem somewhere else and so observe the artist in his makings for you. On the roof, on my belly, I own land and peer through binoculars.

And, yes, it is night. All these stars.

Van Gogh has yet to sweat on his art for you in these fields, when my voice in the dark brings him to a halt. From the roof of the house feigning absence, I repeat the question I’ve asked you: But what about this yellow, if Master Vincent doesn’t suicide?

Artists worry themselves ragged with questions of color and hue and self-immolation, and Van Gogh is no exception.

Van Gogh and you and I close eyes in a brief attempt to see the yellow, now, and get precisely nothing. A glimpse only of the body’s blood, its slow purple swirl.

You know I am only bullying, and with a kind of desperation. You know, my love, of wheat, of Van Gogh’s renderings.

I suspect that Van Gogh and you live together and know that you receive the paper in the mornings. You consider my words regarding the signs of unidentified objects harsh.

Loss. Yields. Woe. Meager.

The landowner’s love gives, you say, though it is complex and difficult to bear.

I’ve given you flowers, fat wreaths hand-made to pass along to Van Gogh, with the hope he might still be painting, might curl colors in impression of these wreaths wrung from the rare bright cryings irregularly splotching my fields. The most wrenching hues, I tell you, weaved here. Impossible golds I know Van Gogh will love.

Daily, you cut my harsh quotes on the signs of unidentified flying objects with scissors before the sun rises and Van Gogh doesn’t read the papers ever anyway and cannot comprehend current events and sleeps till 6:30 or 8:00 in the evening.

Through the deep summer, I’ve read the new biography that you’ve got the short story of regarding Van Gogh and suicide and I am now confounded with questions of meaning and desire and the artist.

Yesterday, with a wreath of impossible golds, I ask you, But what about this color? This yellow, now, if Master Vincent doesn’t suicide?

Van Gogh is dragging the sign of an unidentifiable flying object for you and fields the questions I toss like ghosts from the roof of my ghost-house. My voice desperate, I shout:

Might the gulp, the swallow, the sense always of swimming in the color of this wheat, these folds of yellow, dissipate into something ethereal, or just fall, flat, if the Auvers-sur-Oise fields, those molten yellow pains of beauty in which Master Vincent succumbs, in which the breeze is a texture in the touchings of buds, might that yellow, that old gold settle as something less if the fields feature a couple of drunk boy cowboys and a busted gun?

Van Gogh is not repeating the ghost-question hallooed in one long breath from the ghost-house, but is making a sign in yellow for you.

I own land and write in wheat and the weather and tomorrows and so on, and so I know but cannot help myself and ghost-scream:

A couple of phony, kidding sheriffs or rustlers or bounty boys saying through slurs and smiles and other breaks in character, ‘Stick ‘em up, Master Vincent’?

Van Gogh shucks single spikelets of wheat with each step for a bit in his writing the sign of an unidentified flying object for you and I turn on my back, now, on my roof; I throw my voice off navy sky:

If it is not Master Vincent with his own hand and a straight shooter and a too full kind of seeing? Might the color weigh less with such a shift in the end?
He drops one bud in each of his seven pockets and squats real low so that the stalks sway and touch above his head. Van Gogh might grind out flower in a future, unimaginable.

He’s lost me, lost the seeing of the binoculars and so I shimmy quick down the gutter-pipe and approach from the tree-line, my voice a kind of breeze:

Might the story of a color balance on the story of Buckskin Bill or The White Demon of the Woods, on a story of reading?

Crop circles so rarely are circles, and so Van Gogh is dragging these milk-crates of spares in hard, long lines, and for you, is leading on some different kinds of tales in the wheat of the land I own, is dragging the right sort of bait for a reading lifted, sure signs like so many acre-sized tablets, golden.

Circles are involved, though.

For instance, these six vesica shapes that Van Gogh carves out for you, rotating about the same center, form two perfect, inadvertent circles the size of school buses.

The one without three times the area as the one within, precisely.

And, of course, that string of orbs Van Gogh grinds into the fields I own for you, at 1 : 2 : 3 : 9, where 9 is the radius of the surrounding circle, but, these, in a kind of absentia.

Whereby the seen and unseen might touch each other.

Van Gogh’s mind is a tendering of light through a body and he can hear my inquiries and might locate them in his own there in my fields as he stops again and I carry on my question:

Might the story of a color rest on a reading of The Shadow Scout or Screaming Moses of the Fishkill Mountains and a boy cowboy’s need for authenticity in he and his pals’ play?

And, on the verge of sobbing:

And the sunflowers?

Van Gogh gets back at it, has given up the ghost, has burning palms and I crawl across the land I own on hands, on knees. I cry my question into the dirt not all that far from Van Gogh’s feet:

Might each be less of an apocalypse, a weaker ravaging of flower, of sun, if the boy cowboy drops and doesn’t even fire the thing?

I own the land and write it with the weather and into the unknown, every day, and, a slipworm describing the lines of the sign of the unidentified flying object Van Gogh carves for you, bent like the stalk he writes for you, ask:

How might one paint the movement from the German, gelb, the gold, the golden, and the glistening of the Dutch geel to this yellow that cannot really be imagined as a fleece or fortune’s adjective?

Huffing snot into the soils I own, I ask:

Yellow, an unidentified object? In space or time? Light? And Master Vincent?

You know, my love, and say that you and I have a knowing about us, and Van Gogh, too. That you and I and him are working a hard nothing, precisely, about this too many of the stalks, the ends, the night.

You have not answered my questions and Van Gogh does not pause to do so either but runs the exact soft scars of impossible technologies for you with these spare tires and empty milk-crates and sweat.

Might I slip into the crate Van Gogh hauls? A weight of the writing he drags in the fields I own, might I grasp light’s many ambiguities and ask:

Because, if yellow arrived, ever, suddenly, in slower waves up to that point unseen, it follows that a same passing follows?

Van Gogh cares after the ways color means but does not respond. His pace slows, heavy steps making the sign of an unidentified object for you back in the direction of my home I’ve made absent.

Van Gogh offers no answer, but I picture his body in a kind of slow bleeding, cruising cosmic rushes of dust beyond the speed of light, falling upon this wheat I own with the whispered lightness of a feather, leaving these shapes, ghosts of unimaginable rockets and their not-hot breath.

Do I read, then, in the wake of Van Gogh’s writing in the fields’ I own, in working the line up from the signs’ weight and grabbing Van Gogh’s ankle, slugging along the lines of the lands I own, weeping, asking:

And what if Gauguin chops the ear? If it is, again, not Master Vincent, with a razor and his own tortured hand, but Gauguin, with a sword, with precision, from more than an arm’s length away?

Do I read or write in crawling up Van Gogh’s legs and asking the piggy-back, in asking:

And, if no one catches the ear, and so it falls, like the tossed shell of a large nut, to the floor, of the brothel, among the things one might find ambling about the floor of a brothel?

Do I make way for his shoulders and see down at the valley after the lands I own and sense the sweat of his neck?

But Van Gogh is silent, is a hovering without fire for you, is a touchdown, is a liftoff, and a particular carving of symbol to be read from the right perspective.

Van Gogh flicks away this spikelet, that spikelet, and a third and leaves the rest where they lie in his pockets, four possible histories of yellow Van Gogh keeps kept.

Do you or Van Gogh or I imagine Gauguin’s deft flick of the blade and wonder if Van Gogh might wear that hat in the self-portraits simply because it’s cold, might smoke that pipe simply from a desire to smoke and haze a room.

Do you or I or the artist ask, a ghost in a breath at Van Gogh’s ear:

But what of yellow as a silence, a sea of sealed lips, of Master Vincent’s? Without ear: without answer. With life slipping, without answer. What of Master Vincent asking, What swordsman staying with me at Yellow House? What half-drunk boy cowboys’ busted gun?

Do you or I or the artist reduce the earth to something like paper with an unimaginable pen, in a geometry that’s just gibberish, if precise? Is the anchored rope taught at your or my or the artist’s right ankle as you or I or the artist walk radii and stretch these signs across acres, run this night’s yellow from inside to out, outside to in? Do you or I or the artist sink this color to its shadow, and, in a kiss, tender, ask:

If it is a kind of loss yellow must mourn?

Of you or I or the artist, whose art might be technical enough, precise enough, to eventually leave fewer questions as to how the many suicides were finally a success, asking:

How long might Master Vincent keep up the game with the boy cowboys made suddenly killers, how long might the artist utter phony last lines of vengeance or consolation or reflection in faking his death while bleeding, internally, externally, in this last act of Master Vincent and his young pals’ play?

Though, Van Gogh is drawing these signs he can’t quite see, and for you.

Do you or I or the artist grind teeth at Van Gogh’s cartilage? Is it a question or a pinch we ask as the artist drags signs through the fields?

Van Gogh is painting signs, in the wheat, in the dark and the dust of the stars and from the right kind of perspective the candles and the tilt of his hat’s brim give the look of an impossible saucer, clipping at the far hills in golden bulbs.

And you or I or the artist have only bent this wheat, and slightly; who knows what the sun might do.

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