Paul Gauguin: D’ou Venons Nous? Que Sommes Nous? Où Allons Nous? (1897)
Gauguin knew his time was running out. He meant this painting to be his last. And so when he finished, he went into the mountains behind Papeete to commit suicide.
—E.O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of the Earth
The baby is not an answer.
The baby is a question.
The couple picking apples is not an answer.
The couple picking apples is a question.
The man with his arms raised is not an answer.
The man with his arms raised is a question.
The statue of a god is not an answer.
The statue of a god is a question.
Don’t let the ants take your body, Gauguin.
Suicide is not the answer,
but it is the question.
Consolation is imaginary.
You said it yourself.
Let your stone-aged heart relent,
let the mystery of our origins
burn like syphilis,
as you move that vial of arsenic
away from your mouth
and the wastelands
of Paris laugh.
The painting is not an answer.
The painting is a question.
Where Do We Come From?
What Are We?
Where Are We Going?
These mountains cannot hide you.
The brushstrokes call you back.
Death by Ink EraseR
In memory of George Spencer, February 15, 1894 — February 15, 1909
It might have been the worst case of reverse sexual
harassment ever recorded.
Poor George Spencer, dead at 15,
fell on an ink eraser in his own coat pocket
evading birthday kisses
from six female co-workers.
The headline of the 1909 New York Times
article the next morning read,
"Stabbed to Death in Office Frolic."
I suppose having your heart penetrated
by a sharp metal object
used to remove ink
while fleeing six smitten women
is still better than
dying on a battlefield,
or facing a firing squad,
or getting cancer.
But at 15, young George learned the hard way
what it’s taken me years to figure out:
There are just as many ways to flee
the heart as there are to
penetrate it. And just as much
danger in doing so.
Revising a Letter Already Sent
There’s no point in doing it.
Yet I do it anyway.
Take out a word here,
change a verb,
switch the tense
from past to present.
The letter was probably of no importance
to the man I sent it to,
he was dying,
and may or may not
have received it.
Who was I to waste the last
minutes of his life
with bad syntax,
a few awkward phrases?
Was my letter too somber? Too serious?
Too condoning? Too humorous?
Such attempts I make to rewrite
the past, rearrange,
re-open the file.
When all time has a stamp.
Dropped off in a box somewhere.
No chance of getting it back.
CLINT MARGRAVE is the author of The Early Death of Men, and Salute the Wreckage (forthcoming) both from NYQ Books. His work has also appeared in The New York Quarterly, Rattle, Cimarron Review, Verse Daily, Nerve Cowboy, and Ambit (UK), among others. He lives in Long Beach, CA.