Bedroom in Arles

This ekphrastic poem was written in December of 2011 in response to the painting of the same name by Vincent van Gogh. First published in Quill and Parchment, January 2012. Also published in On the Arts by Naomi Beth Wakan (Gabriola, British Columbia: Pacific-Rim Publishers, 2016). Please also read Bedroom Conversation, a brief email interchange with Marijke Verkaik about this poem and ekphrastic poetry. See also an excerpt from Cognitive Grammar in Literature, in which this poem is discussed by Polish linguistics professor Alina Kwiatowska. See my “Response to Alina Kwiatowska.” See also Ekphrastic Assimilations and “Visual plus Poetry plus Zines”. Van Goghs final words were “La tristesse durera toujours,” meaning “The sadness will last forever.

My bedside books are dreams to drink,

paths to lap up, absinthe to imbibe.

I have reading glasses now,

and tall stacks of books seem as rickety as me,

till a new bookcase finds room in the house.

The carpet is more worn from door to bed

than ever before, nights of reading

distorting the pillow trapped under my side.

The tiny lamp I use keeps my wife

from waking, and somehow words

show me the road where I will go.


In Arles, the painter’s room has no dreams,

no carpet or books, or glasses to speak of

old age. The bed just wide enough

for a single man, its only dreams

may be the colours in paintings

hung carelessly on vivid walls,

yet the window stays closed

to tomorrow.


Even a bullet to the chest

cannot end

such bookless, dreamless sadness.