Call Her Vincent

Oliver Bendorf

Let’s try one more time: call her Vincent
and she will press against your lips backstage,
write you letters that say, when you tell me to come,
I will come, by the next train, just as I am.
Her first lover will disclose to a biographer
that she’d been raised a son
by a mother who did not expect her, who gave birth
just moments after an uncle was revived
from the brink. His name? Vincent.

There’s a photograph
in which she already knows how to take up space,
Vincent’s hands small, wrapped around the branches
of a flowering tree like the tree is hers alone,
like it only bloomed within the picture’s frame.
The photo is from 1914 and she is twenty-two,
already the age to touch herself and not feel sorry for it,
to let the salty-sweet of ache deliver her.

She never traveled without Milton or the Bard.
She lived in a farmhouse
in a field and that field was in a forest. She knew
that if you settle somewhere beautiful
you will live more spectacularly,
with firework and flare, with dewdrops
that rest on morning blades of grass
when you find you are sore from the way you fucked
and cannot sleep, with a breath that sounds
the same whether born of ecstasy or darkness,
a gasp, a rush to take in the world
and breathe ourselves out, O, like a mess, like a man,
with grace, even if our finale is a fatal tumble
down some stairs, the literati hushing our name
like a sexed-up prayer: Vincent.


(Note: lines in italics are from a letter Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote to Edith Wynne Matthison.)