On the Shore of a Woman
A red-headed man in his late thirties collapses onto farmland from a bullet in his side. Anvers, France, 1890.
I am ever on the shore of a woman. Lap upon her sand, then withdraw. Wet salt bristles my nostrils. In boggy regions fish die and I chew her salty bread. Pores appear on her moss-slick skin, but I see them only as stars faraway. My pulse swells and breaks like surf. Her heart foghorns across the blackness. In pools I near her grace, then ebb. Her undulating body pulls then repels. Compressed air belches and grit grinds between us. I squeeze into her mud. She opens and then me. I am milk-white. She is liquid eyes. However deep I wash into her, more of me remains outside.
I come from inside a woman and try always to return. I began in the black womb but found no black in nature. Not in the beginning—my stillborn brother in the grave outside the family home, my name upon his cross—nor at the end, my sky clotted with ravens.
Sunlight dances into my wound. Zinc yellow glints off the bullet and sparkles my red lakes. Aquamarine and vermillion skitter about distant silver hills. Cerulean sky rushes forward. I open into mother earth. My blood, darkening to carmine, mingles with this soil a breathing colour, tinting torso and limbs in arc and sinew. Like a woman divulging herself at the moment of climax or a teardrop turning out its salt. Never has pigment been more true. The freshly turned, sweet earth blossoms her fragrance to me while I soak into her dark, forgiving soil and pass through her muscles and her sighs.
No, I found no wife. But I have mated: the involuntary trembling, the opening, the emptying, and then the cooling blood, peace in the limbs, the dissolving across the earth.
To the women I found: Cousin K., how I still hear your, “No, never, never,” as you ran from my proposal. Was my love frightening? Its vessel horrid? And to Sien, the same storm that cast you onto my shore in one wave reclaimed you in the next. What worth my arms not strong enough to save you from the streets? Lastly Rachel, you thought it mad but I cut for you the lobe of flesh I tread to the truth in me.
Now I lay open the whole of my body. I slough in the sun, expose the genuine, strip the profane. Cocoon-like, I writhe to free myself. I unfold to a new, beautiful form. Oh, if a woman were to touch her bare love to mine, what suns we would excite.
My colleagues, sisters, brothers, have I convinced you of the sinew in nature? Lifeblood courses through her veins. And light. Yes. Light. The sun’s chrome yellow works into the life of a thing, almond leaves, sunflowers, cornfields, all shards of a single mirror. Luminous light. Pregnant hills, sweet orchards, tender meadows—visions to calm the skin. Whorls of starlight in a dark universe spiral beyond like the generation of children to come.
I will have no children, but I explored life as a child, like the meadow near my home in Zundert. One day a butterfly, the Apollo, fluttered just above the reach of straw grasses. My eyes traced its bobbing path through the air until it dipped below the horizon where a stream bordered the meadow. When it didn’t arise again I followed. I stood at the stream edge and saw the shapes and oil tints of its wings varying in the sun. Rocks sparkled beside it. It fluttered some seconds below the water.
Did I ever paint anything so tender?
I sold but one work—to a woman painter. That and praise in Paris embarrasses me after all this time. I did not do enough. Yet I did profit; I tendered everything. The creations I leave behind will also find rest.
Dear brother, dear Theo, what was I without you? We will be, as always, side by side. In all history it is couplings that conceive. A handshake in thought.
My alizarin blood and the sienna manure couple in this farmland. Here—with my finger draw a line, a curl there, a hard curve, more maroon here. Incline her head look back across into the distance. Hair waving on one, yes, off one shoulder. Yes. Finished.
I create my end. Liquid, I return to woman. I return to her at last.
I sign my life—Vincent.
A version of this story previously appeared in Art Times.
Hank Lawson has written two pre-published novels, short historical fiction published in the Chicago Quarterly Review and Art Times, songs, a range of music, and occasional poetry.
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