Van Gogh’s Noon: Rest from Work (after Millet)
His wheatfield redistributes the light evenly
over the pair of strawstacks, of shoes and sickles
set off to one side which belong to the couple
drowsing in the dark gold shade of afternoon.
Only the wagon in the background is singular
though two oxen are loitering near enough
to rub dumbly against its iron-shod wheels.
Less distinct in the distance is a crop of wheat,
as high as a wainscot between earth and sky,
still not cut or bundled or loaded for winnowing.
No question of the tasks which await them,
those two in the foreground who are faceless
as cattle and as serene in their exhaustion.
An observer can practically feel the prickling
of the severe stubble where they are at ease,
the itch of chaff when their sweat evaporates.
How masterfully each subject mirrors itself,
the man and woman in a cotton tunic or smock,
the way even one work shoe parallels the other
and sickle blades curve into quotation marks
as if to complete some statement on the balance
between art and whatever is perfectly ordinary.
Allen Braden is the author of A Wreath of Down and Drops of Blood (University of Georgia) and Elegy in the Passive Voice (University of Alaska/Fairbanks), winner of the Midnight Sun Chapbook Contest. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and from Artist Trust of Washington State as well as the Emerging Writers Prize from Witness magazine, the Grolier Poetry Prize, the Dana Award in Poetry and other honors. Former poet-in-residence for the Poetry Center and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he lives in Lakewood, Washington.