T. L. Kryss

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A Brief Infatuation with Words

Crates were pressed into service as room dividers and the skylight covered back up with a ladder and lengths of the opaque mosquito netting; for a while the flowers were permitted to remain in the windows, and Van Gogh’s parrot, E’ Clairage, when not attached to his shoulder, stationed itself on a first-come, fist-serve basis in the various pots, its vocabulary consisting of mispronunciations of all the colors of the palette aimed at Gauguin.  At a stall in the village Gauguin purchased a translation of Dr. Johnson’s Principles of Ventriloquism.  “And what have we found today?” Van Gogh had enquired.  Gauguin, covering the title of the book with his hand:  “It’s nothing.  Go back to your painting and leave the words to those, however peripherally, disposed to them.”  On his third or fourth glance through the book a phrase caused his eyebrows, one after the other, to levitate:  “. . .and for those of you unable to induce flowers to speak without moving the lips, take heart.  Attention is directed away from the mouth to support the illusion, not so much by subjugating the primary voice, as by subtleties of the eye and small gestures of hand.”  The canvasses which began talking to Van Gogh as he and Gauguin sat side by side, painting, offered relevant critiques from the viewpoints of the paintings themselves: “Move the sienna away from the cadmium where it will have, at last, the opportunity to breathe.  Hold the brush a bit more loosely, like purse strings perhaps, not as though you are attempting to trowel concrete. Wipe off the magenta; it is exacerbating the contusion.”  Unamused, Van Gogh spit off to the side, a signal for the parrot to soar down, yodeling, into Gauguin’s paint.