Roger Reeves's first book, King Me, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2013 and was awarded the 2014 Larry Levis Reading Prize and a John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. His second collection of poetry, On Paradise, is forthcoming from W. W. Norton. Reeves has received fellowships from Cave Canem and the National Endowment for the Arts. The recipient of a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship and a Whiting Award, Reeves was a Hodder Fellow from 2014 to 2015 at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University. He lives in Austin, Texas.
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Self-Portrait as Vincent Van Gogh in the Asylum at Arles
The moths in the orchard squeal
with each pass of the mistral wind.
Yet the reapers and their scythes,
out beyond the pear trees, slay wheat
in sure columns. Christ
must have been made of shocks
of wheat. When they lashed him,
four bundles of fine yellow burst forth
from each welt. And the women,
tarrying as they do now behind the swing
and chuff of the reapers' blades,
gathered and plaited the stray pieces
of wheat falling from his hips into braids,
long braids that would bind a tattered sail-
cloth over his yellow mouth, yellow feet.
Oh to be bound by one's own blood
like a burlap sack cinched around the neck
with a leather belt. Father forgive me
for the moths shrieking in the orchard
of my mouth. Forgive the rattle and clatter
of wings inside the blue of my brain.
Even if these iron bars queer a field,
queer a woman standing too close to a reaper's blade,
a half-moon hung and wholly harsh,
even if this woman, burdened like a spine
carrying a head and a basket of rocks,
forgets the flaw of a well-sharpened tool,
let her not mistake my whimper and warning
for the honk of a goose in heat. Father,
she is not made like our savior,
of straw, of a coarse tender. Nothing will stop
when her blood runs along a furrow.
The sun will not sag with a red scowl.
The field will not refuse water. Father,
I am unsure of what I am—
a fragrant mistral wind or a pile of moths' heads
at the foot of a pear tree. Father,
give me a scythe. Father, let me decide.