On Day Three of Ethical ELA’s Open Write, Margaret Simon invited participants to “transform art into words” by “choosing a work of art or creative practice and explore phrasing, spaces, and repetition.”
My mind immediately went to Van Gogh and the Immersive Experience I recently attended. The last two lines of my poem are Van Gogh’s own words, written in a letter to his brother, Theo, referencing other artists who were known for painting specific flowers: “You know that Jeannin has the peony, Quost has the hollyhock, but I have the sunflower, in a way.” My poem’s title comes from Van Gogh’s artist friend Gauguin, who loved Vincent’s sunflower paintings in a time when many artists thought they were too rustic a subject. Van Gogh, however, was fond of the flowers. Newly-invented pigments of yellow oil paint enabled him to experiment and innovate, creating the two series of seven paintings collectively known as Sunflowers. At his funeral, the flowers graced his casket; a friend later planted sunflowers on his grave.
“Completely Vincent” Van Gogh, painting sunflowers for Gauguin
Yellow and yellow thirty shades of yellow new alive wilting dying returning with faces forever turning toward the sun light shining in darkness returning returning thanks for my friend for the beauty of these flowers growing in wild array by the paths I walk day by day I offer them to you, my friend can you see in my oil-bouquet all the shades of gratitude so much I cannot even say whether it’s still in me to pray be that as it may today today I have the sunflower in a way
Where I live rolling fields of soybeans, tobacco, and occasionally cotton are the familiar. I imagine it all looks like a patchwork quilt of various textures and patterns, from the sky. Driving by the pastures where the pair of old mules lived and died, on my way back to school at summer’s end, I see something unexpected. Sunflowers. Tall and tangled, bordering a garden. Light-seeking sentinels with open faces and inner resources as myriad as seeds. At sight of these yellow-petaled suns my heart leaps a little. Is this what they’re mostly for, sunflowers? Beyond seed, oil, fiber, beyond cleansing the soil and waters of nuclear radiation, burning with their own silent, mysterious fire just to inspire? I realize as I drive backroads I’ve not driven in a while that they are everywhere. All around me. Whole fields of them where I’ve never seen them before. They buoy my spirit. Whatever task lies before me, I am up to it. I stop at a store to buy sunflower seeds for my workday lunch salads, as if channeling the power of the sun while remembering what Van Gogh said, as he painted: The sunflower is mine, in a way.
My first encounter with sunflowers was in childhood summers spent deep in the countryside. My grandmother’s brother, who suffered trauma at birth and who lived alone in the old homeplace with his siblings looking after him, planted sunflowers in his garden. I marveled at their towering height and how their faces always followed the sun. Fields of sunflowers have indeed been planted to remove toxins from the soil after nuclear radiation. They are cleansing, healing, and surprisingly buoyant: their stems were used as filler for the first life jackets.
There could hardly be a more encouraging motif as the new school year gets underway.
Thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the space and invitation to share these noticings in the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge.
with thanks to Dr. Padma Venkatraman and the Ethical ELA #VerseLove invitation to write a quatrain today on hope, especially, hope overcoming hate: What does hope mean to me? How do I see it? She suggested using a metaphor.
I see hope is as vital to our existence as humans. When I started this blog, I wanted it it to be uplifting and hopeful. The world already has far too much anger and hatred. I struggled with condensing a metaphor for hope that would fit in four lines! I finally settled on a sunflower. It’s too big for all I would say here in regard to hope overcoming hate. Maybe I will try it in another form later. Part of my inspiration comes from sunflowers being planted to absorb radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Technically lines one and three should rhyme but I claim poetic license.
For Day Fourteen of National Poetry Month
Hope turns its face to the sun Warming its myriad seeds Hope’s roots absorb toxins Cleansing each soul that it feeds.