Museum Tanka by Dawn Manning


I could sit for hours
staring into Van Gogh’s sun
translating words
by the thousands
into chips of light






after Gauguin split,
Van Gogh put galaxies
between himself and the sun,
one of many stars
eclipsed by distance






I’ve never reached Rouen, yet
I’ve seen Monet
resurrect and set the sun
at its doorstep






the hard work’s Cézanne’s:
chisel sharp-edged light
from soft landscapes, each leaf
perching in the mind
heavy as stone






his olive trees translate light
in bruised tongues—whisper
long mosaic shadows
into one eye, pull
rough rivers from the other






he walked back to town
through his crow-dirged fields,
the bullet reached his spine.
How often in dreams I’ve crossed
wheat fields under troubled skies






Renoir’s an easy trick—
paint it exact, then
smear the lens of your eye
with Vaseline,
never blink or extract







Cézanne was right—
I can’t hear you through
the tangle
of triangles clanging
between the branches



































These poems are reflections on both a general knowledge of the artists and their work as well as meditations on specific works of art. The works of art informing this series include: Vincent van Gogh’s Olive Trees housed in the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), Paul Cézanne’s Chestnut Trees at Jas de Bouffan (MIA), and the astounding collection of art at The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, including works by all of the artists mentioned in this series, but particularly those of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Van Gogh’s Olive Trees
Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows
Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series
Cezanne’s Chestnut Trees
Barnes Foundation