Janet Reed

Seeing a Van Gogh Woman

 For Virginia (1932-2018)

They press her small in pastoral odes
let her drift into memory inscrutable,
a worker woman sowing seeds,
shooing crows off a canvas,

her face a thin stripe of pink paint
dashed against swirls of blue skies
and purple clouds, hung high
in a corner spot of a wainscoted wall.

I see her mourners eulogizing her
stocked refrigerator, turkey sandwiches,
a Bible open in her lap on Sundays
hear them laud her listening ear,

a woman gathering flowers in vases
pretty for a picture easy to frame,
without seeing the blue-black tattoo
of a lion heart inked on her skin.

I do not dismiss the no-diving signs
I saw in her eyes or the glint of steel
in her spine, this woman caged
by cradles and corsets wanting more

than a flesh-colored hand on a child’s
back, wanting rules she had to write,
playing life like a rook on a chess board
moving men like pawns, never missing

a turn, never mussing her skirt, delaying
sacrificial moves longer than most.
I will never walk past another canvas
of a faceless woman and think I know her.