I like these poems. It is intriguing how I hear a gnarled,
knotted, earthy quality in the expression which for me
   matches/resembles the same quality in van Gogh’s work,
but visually and in a tactile way too – given the heavy
impasto of his technique.

                             Kobus Moolman

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
including photocopying, without prior permission in
writing from the copyright owner.

© Joop Bersee, 2015


I like the man with his spade
digging the charcoal soil,
a woman’s crooked fingers
foraging for potatoes.

Who would have bought
starving labourers in rags?
It would have ruined cigars.
Burgundy into vinegar.
Traumatized any pince-nez.
Upsetting the serving maids.
The cook apologizing.

His charcoals would have
blossomed, loved the mouldy
walls where I grew up.
Fields slowly coming to life,
same green as the shoes in
the upstairs cupboard.

The Borinage

The crow rests in the coal dust
on which miners’ dreams are made

but soon begins to flap its wings
still on the ground repeating

stretched caw in the blackout
streets of the crusted Borinage.

It takes a few steps and soon
flies through the empty streets.

It has to change its strategy,
fly higher to see the world,

touch its mysterious sleepy eyes
who refuse to see these images.

Above the stratus clouds it finds
the sun and stars to navigate.

*In van Gogh’s days one of the
most impoverished and inhospitable
regions of Europe where miners lived
and worked,  where van Gogh preached.  
Situated in Belgium.


The window and its frame sucked out.
The whole in the wall
a windy, black canvas,
wearing boots,
beard, ashes
on his shoulders.
A cascade of thorns
hanging from his clothes, skin.

His eyes don’t seem to find a way out.
His head looking for margins,
how to fade them,
when and where.
Lying on his bed,
exposed to
Prussian blue
Emerald green
Chrome yellow.

Two artists

He tries to persuade his brother
to paint.

Paint follows the brush,
signs from inside.

Has he decided? He never goes for walks
in the rain or snow,

on top of a sunrise
lifting feet sky high.

How not to absorb this,
use the closed staring tubes?

The gallery door opens.
You straighten your tie.

Theo worked for gallery Goupil in Paris.


She digs the snow.
He loves her spade.
She’s as hungry 
as his hands,
pencils, chalk, charcoal.
                          He holds her in ink.

On their knees
in the snow,
the rain crouching,
mud staggering,
their children
coming out of rags,
                  black bread, blood.

Point of view

I talk to you
in the snow
with my pen,
rain and wind,
us walking on paper,
on wet paint,
footprints, scratches
from thorny bushes,
taking it home.

We are still shadows
in the middle of a
slightly crooked sun,
                 despairing academic eyes.

Snow in Arles

A canvas begins
to open a sun,
immense flames
blinding planets
somewhere in the box
with blue sky, yellows,
sending it to its summit.

It begins its journey
across this feverish day
opening mountains,
unfolding many brush strokes,
the snow still sealing
patches of plough land
with lumps of shadow.

The yellow circle, 
weightless and powerful,
invades life,  breathes
as long as it takes,
a few hours,
a thousand years,
dressed warm enough
amidst smudges of birds
echoing wet
glittering paint.

Arles, a village in France where
                                      Van Gogh lived.


No more plaster casts,
the studio a last resort.
Working from memory?
A clumsy footnote, its
grammar like a stone.
Every day is a rush:
sketches and paint
under stars and sun,
en plein air.

Sand is enmeshed on
his windswept beaches,
dust storm traces,
wind patterns on his fields.
They might find clouds, 
sun, the heat of the day
embedded in his strokes.

The worn face,
the crazed cracks
testify to that.
Nature testifies to that,
talking to our labyrinth
up the stairs
to our small,
colourful room,
                         so beautifully restored.


Blue brilliance of the sky
as we travel on steel,
the speeding landscape,
colours flying past, blurry details,
no feelings, just staring and
remembering fractions,
finding this quite normal.
It is, what else can we say?
The world weird, predictable,
unpredictable, following
an unknown system, until one
day a small crack, a worn wire,
and silence wins the day
surrounded by immortal sirens,
                 blue brilliance of the sky.

Queueing up

In a queue outside the museum,
                            continue here  (Botsotso)

Red and resting

In the eternal mistral.    
                 continue here (Botsotso)


The sun a massive Louis D’or
the sower sowing his future.
The field soon white canvas,
                                continue here

Louis D’or, gold coin.

 Working on ten paintings

That day might come.
The body refusing
the continue here

Now so popular

Is it necessary to sell?
Working in a trench
day and night,
young green leaves,
yellow/brown leaves.
His shoes rotting away.
It’s the perfect spot
to be with a pen,
snatching nature, its voice
from the swamps, clay,
darkness of the stars’ light.
Eyes hammer soot,
colourful sun hammers
his chimney, work billowing out.
His oven a medical something,
like a daily walk as deep as ankles,
knees or neck.


Her daughter Maria in
pencil and charcoal
on the floor boards.
Thread of prayers
carried by drawings.

No matter Theo’s sour
blood shot words.
Friends trampling his whore,
his ‘Sorrow’ model,
the children born
out of wedlock.

They abandoned his mistake,
yelping in the doorway,
running away from his
disturbing domesticity.

So the failures continued.
Back to the smoke of his efforts.
Choice of words switching,
sitting in silence, darkness
as children and woman left.
He turns around, peeps at
his sky, dark ink slumping
back to his brother, sowing
new seeds in his frantic head.

Sien (1850-1904) was a seamstress,
prostitute and  a model for Van Gogh.
They lived together, with her two children,
                                               from 1882 till 1883 in The Hague.

                    Orphan man Zuyderland

A statue which he could bend.
As patient as a guide dog on a leash,
deaf dog. His postures loud and clear
on paper, the pencil moving, covering

more and more territory, front, back,
sideways, sitting-  No rest, a bird embracing
the wind, catching fire. The flames
fuelled by this man standing there,

old and full of holes, realness pouring out.
The paper touched by the pencil’s core.
Mania all around it, small stars reflecting
restless eyes.

A.J. Zuyderland was one of the artists’
models, a deaf pensioner at the Dutch
Reformed Old People’s Home.


In rags, walking from
town to the station.
Carrying most of his
belongings across the moor,
cursing eyes in peat.
The landscape anger.
Desperation  in the air.

Curtains close in puddles.
His head burning with
guilt, illusions, too much
failing, despite the zeal.
A misplaced piece of
root looking for the right
shape, right trail after dark.

He must grab nature’s
many faces, his glimpse,
colours of his blood. No
photograph, exact copy.
Walking, his feet hang on
to his shoes, leaving holes,
filling up slowly, away.

Province in The Netherlands.


His rags an illness,
the black, dry bread
unjustified, building
his darkness still to come
over the fields, peasants
early in the morning
hacking, digging, crawling,
sketch pad kneeling.
He pours himself into
the black shapes moving,
absorbing the chains,
the rusty umbilical chords
                         attached to their afterbirth tombs.

Jo’s no to Theo

‘No’ was where he met Theo’s
hands again, new buds,
their iron-bound tongues barking
a song, causing no stir for a while.

Their arch of paint grew across
the rooftops of Paris, its commerce
embracing the jagged palette,
picking up the scent of sunny

women, their hot embraces giving
birth to thunder between the
bruised thighs with their soft,
white lace, swarming warmth.

Jo eventually became Theo’s wife.

Great painter leaving?

It’s not over yet,
despite portrait like
chairs in oil. 
He feels the aftermath
already approaching
under stars rejected
by the great painter.
Cracks. Letters to Paris.
Another vision about
to burst he writes.

Gauguin pawnbroker
trampling, felling sunflowers;
they are messy and odd,
crude, convulsing blobs
of paint. A journey clawed
to the uneven borderline
of guts, mad fantasies.


Rust and mould

The yellow house turns to mould.
The roof leaks bits of sky, the
drawings, paintings glistening
during his time in jail, in
Arles hospital with its bars
and shackles to keep the peace.
Abandoned by Paris, Jo’s
yes to Theo’s proposal
whose ink seems to get rusty.
Then the asylum where it
is better, feels more like home.
The wheat field absorbs yellow
from the sun, the cypress tree
                          in ink swirls like words not sent.

The yellow Reaper

The Reaper is finished in
all its likeness. He’s faceless,
turned his back on us. Not
forgetting but hiding
the true face, small lumps of clay.

His left foot stands on its toes,
the heel of the right touching
the ground as if digging in.
The wheat between the legs

look like flames. Behind him
a green patch like a new
beginning, seen from the
asylum’s barred windows.


 As a coward

This slavery between thinking
and doing, fighting like a saint

in some land, boots touched
by cold men. A sober regret settled.

To be excluded, decided by paint.
Decision without end, coffee and 

bread, ankle deep in snow fighting 
elements, canvas, flies, sand. 

A coward, weak in his head.
Retreating to Saint-Remy-de-Provence,

to his easel and the great battle
in the garden of Saint-Paul asylum.

For some time Van Gogh was
                                      considering to join the foreign legion.

Red Vineyard

A restless bird on a branch
singing. No one listening.
Majority of the leaves red.
Vineyard a huge flat rock,
silver coin sun embedded in
the paint from memory,
the canvas, easel inside.
A few women picking grapes,
the light changing from yellow
wheat to a darkish man standing in
the shallow river. The cool
blue leaves of trees on the left,
further away, capture the silver sun
on Anna Boch’s wall.

Miss Anna Boch bought Red Vineyard.in1888.
The only painting he sold during his lifetime.

A crow signs the ocean
from blue to black.
No drunken feeling
caused by nature.
The anchor, his youth
slowly rubbed out;
mother moving to a city,
deaths in the family,
the birth of Theo’s child
which he feared the most,
a haunting replacement.

The booming cry of a child
in the centre
of the universe.

Jo the outsider,
brothers walking hand in hand.
No Vincent without Theo.
A blow fly deciphers their voices.