(written for a young man named Vincent whom I met at the teen center I helped run in college)
Vincent Van Gogh would have tinted his oils blue,
a thousand shades of sadness,
before he laid his lines thick in the shadows of your face.
Yours are the shadows of
your alcoholic father,
as if a shadow were something genetic,
As if the shades of his hopelessness
were inscribed on your newborn face.
In my mind, I watch Vincent lay down his layers.
I wonder how deep they are,
how long the paint will be wet.
I see another deep, blue line
and want to ask him where his highlights fall.
The paintbrush will not capture
your fifteen-year-old frame,
nor the styrofoam Sonic cup
and the smell of liquor it left on your breath.
There will be no canvas portrayal
of my awkward attempts to touch gently on your harsh realities.
Neither will Mr. Van Gogh be painting your mother's portrait,
though I wonder if she misses you tonight.
It would be easier for me to sit here
and hang your present condition like a sorrowful painting
on the walls of my wandering thoughts.
But I am no Vincent Van Gogh.
So I will throw away your empty Sonic cup
and gather the courage to sit down beside your
talk about the stories behind your shades of blue,
maybe even catch a glimpse
of where your highlights fall.
Mr. Van Gogh can keep his midnight blues
for the sky of some starry night.