Clasina Maria Hoornik

Sien with Cigar Sitting on the Floor near Stove (1882) - Vincent Van Gogh

I remember when the boatman found you


In the Schelde,

And plucked you out as if you were

A Clump

Of damp black hair,

Knotted around a shallow drain.


With the speed of a Lefaucheux I raced back to that shore,

Swirling wheat snagged in my beard,

Thirty-hour old

Spine and

Lung and


Still nestled in the sinews of my shirt.

I skidded my knees into the ground,

Bruising the sand beside your blue cheek and burst


Eyes, that burnt away any

Image of Ophelia.


Taking a second glance, he lowered his inky face,

Put coal into the furnace

And set his seventh course around that stick-thin river,

Leaving a trail of sullen foam in its wake

That grasped like spectres

To the vessel’s side.


Alone my heart gave way –



Banks all opened;

The painter became the canvas,

And your decayed jaw,

and swollen stomach,

And blackish nails

Smothered the white –

I cried.


I then heard someone mutter and turned to see

A man,

A few years younger than myself,

Yet identical in many ways,

Ask in a familiar voice:

“How can there be on earth

A woman



He told me he had travelled from Auvers-sur-Ouse,

Where he tended to his late brother’s

declining health.

“The sadness” he said,

With a wheezy voice,

Whilst noting the turbulent sky,


Last forever.”

At this he forced a dead smile,

Turned away

And left no trace in the sand.


Curled upright

With my face buried in

My folded arms,

I asked if you remembered that


The day your gnarled black hair tangled over your left shoulder,

Your white skin and breasts –

Now sagging with milk –

Felt the wind kick up from the stream,

As your toes

And the soles of your feet

Nestled in the soil.


“That day

You told me,

Before the returning flow of gin and men,

That I was the best figure you had drawn in

Ink and pen.

But I was not lorded over,

Or gazed at in bright rooms as you will be; thumbed by gloved academics

In Paris



Our apartment was taken when you left,

My only visitors dragged grubby fingers over grubby


Tables and beds.”

All this I heard

Bubbling in the current,

As your eyes birthed tears

That sailed over the waves of your face,

A journey my fingers once knew.


But remember the crocuses –

I protest –

The blue bells,





Remember the bees bumping past them.

Remember them as Persephone’s children;

Recurring demigods amongst the grass.

Remember these as I intended:
Sketched out in front of you,

Protecting you as you wept.

But remember, most of all,

Remember how, when you walked past,

Barefoot, naked

And alive,

They did not shrivel away,

But instead, brimming with unconditional love,

Blossomed and softly laid kisses on your ankles,

Kisses that promised

Always promised

Still always promising

A beginning.


Sorrow (1882) - Vincent Van Gogh
Sorrow (1882) – Vincent Van Gogh

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