Cypress

Helen Tookey

Until now, I have not been able to do them as I feel them; the emotions that come over me in the face of nature can be so intense that I lose consciousness, and the result is a fortnight during which I cannot do any work. However, before leaving here [St-Remy] I mean to have one more try at tackling the cypresses.
– Vincent van Gogh, tr. Ronald de Leeuw, letter to Albert Aurier, February 1890

It’s a black flame, a fire-tree
that gives no light, that burns
in a cold agony all night on the hill.

Tall thin winding tower
piercing the sky, mocking the calm
blue-grey spire of the church below

– some kind of a horrible miracle,
this black flame that won’t burn out,
that writhes in the cold space of itself

like the constant anxious washing of hands.
Why did you show me, why did you bring me
here to this place? Now the cypress burns

in my mind too, and the stars spin
like catherine wheels, vast and white
and pitiless, and none of it seen,

none of it dreamed down in the valley,
by the small blue town, sleeping.