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Roy BryanThe Potato Eaters, unguarded is read by he author using an Earthworks Ethos Mic

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Roy BryanThe Potato Eaters, unguarded is read by he author using an Earthworks Ethos Mic

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Roy BryanThe Potato Eaters, unguarded is read by he author using an Earthworks Ethos Mic
The Potato Eaters, unguarded

Shortly after the May 4, 1970 Kent State massacre

If I could say it in words
there would be no reason to paint
Edward Hopper

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,”
then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced
Vincent van Gogh

An abrupt January snowsquall
was pushing aggressively into the late afternoon
as I retraced a friend’s off hand comment
over and over again.
And despite the wolf-gray illumination
the winter storm cast over my resigned mood,
the words came to light as an artist’s colorful
and distracting palette
that led me to follow my own footsteps
in a shrouded circle
as jagged flakes stung the eyes
and erased each new imprint.

This random and irrelevant fragment from the past
exerted unseen powers
and momentarily altered my subdued composure.

I know that dormant memories
sprung loose from their dark prison cell
routinely flare and fade—
but like now, occasionally they spin up faster
and faster into the sound of unexpected gunshots
ricocheting on a quiet campus quadrangle—
leaving me to watch with curiosity and disbelief
as an old nightmare forces its way through
to freeze the mind caught out in the open.

Awkward, I stood on that former patch
of green grass, waiting for the dazed
and confused response to wear off.
Unlikely as it sounds,
it was a forgotten spur-of-the-moment choice
to see a Van Gogh
that reopened a heavy museum door
one more time to expose the turmoil
and muted disquiet held hostage for a long time.

Rediscovering this simple act
of pulling at a solid brass handle
a half century after the fact
escapes the understanding of my own memory
which usually only magnifies and punctuates
the failures and indignities
I have carefully isolated beyond my normal reach.
Those unexpected recollections
have always thrown me off stride
for a fleeting instant—the toe catching
an exposed root on the trail
with a furtive stumble
that with luck goes unnoticed
by many reproachful onlookers.

But this flashback was more subtle,
confusing, and complicated.
This building that suddenly reappeared
along a busy canal in Amsterdam
blended easily with the older surroundings—
and if it is still there,
I am sure I couldn’t find it a second time
since it has long disappeared beyond my field of vision
into years of steady rain I picture
blowing off the North Sea
to be replaced in lustrous sun drenched photos
by a contemporary showcase
of elegant glass and soaring steel.

This I remember clearly:
after purchasing my entry ticket,
my walk down the steps fifty years ago
was not the choice most people would have made,
and the display area I entered
was small and unoccupied except for a unfamiliar family
commencing their meager meal
under a dim lantern casting a light
that seemed the earthy green
mixed with the dark dirt
clinging to each new potato
brought in from the field.

Since I had never wandered accidentally
into a wrong house at dinner time,
there was no simple apology ready
for a rude intrusion—
or no grip on being ignored so stubbornly
with such impassive expressions.

What I cannot see anymore
is the neighboring paintings and drawings
that should have gathered as old friends
around me in my unwitting arrival.
There is something puzzling
about this lapse in memory,
and their unlikely absence must be
that legendary and baffling heist
time pulled off with impunity.

What I do remember clearly
was uneasy dark quietness
conflicting with the raw energy
I had carried with me from the outside world.
Truthfully, I had sensed that the main display area
was up in another direction—and I keep telling myself
that it was the surprise and distraction
of the vending machine dispensing cold beer
that altered and disoriented a logical route.
Instead, I have to admit it was not this novelty—
but merely a mindless throw of the dice
or a usual divergent choice hardwired
into how I pick unexpected routes.

Except for possibly adopting a traveler’s inquisitive attitude,
I still am not sure why I was there.
Paintings, drawings, and sculptures
had only ever been at the edge of my visions,
and the fame of this masterpiece
had not reached through to me
before this unexpected viewing.

Frankly, I was hunting for another experience,
something with a movement and energy
to transport me outside of my body
and counter the violence, the burning napalm,
the bombs dropping from B-52s,
the lush leaves shriveling from Agent Orange—
It crossed my mind that I was an ambitious explorer
searching for the painted sunflowers I had admired
creating their impossible magic
on the wall of a friend’s apartment—
even as the glossy paper
slowly curled its aging edges
around the beauty of each chosen flower;

or perhaps my curiosity was aroused
by the strange and exotic swirls in a night sky
I had noticed fading quietly on a poster
displayed by a crestfallen travel agency;

or, for all I know, it was sympathizing
with the ominous but unhindered crows
rising dramatically over a wheatfield
that had been trapped in the oversized
coffee-table book carefully designed
to be idly thumbed through
page by page.

What I knew at the time was that, suddenly,
I was completely present
and caught in an unavoidable exchange—
a give-and-take with an unknown force
mindful, at the same instant,
that some writers, starved for words,
have entered stranger self-delusions.
I stood there motionless
and made the deliberate choice.
not to undo this vision.

Optimistically, I want to believe
my powers of recall
are still very clear, but now,
with many dusty layers having accumulated
into new formations of knowledge,
I am confused with what form
of this painting confronts me
in this memory—I say this
even though I obstinately assume
it does not really matter
if I have lived a whole life
within a fictional final version of my choosing—

but my power of recall
is positive that my paid admittance
let me enter into a legitimate space
that had a reliable feel to it,
and they would not have offered patrons
a student’s prize winning copy
or a confiscated forgery.

Not surprisingly, I did not know at the time
that there were some drafts
the artist had carefully accumulated
and hoarded as a treasure of explorations
that caught everything needed
for his own personal reality.
Perhaps I mixed those images into the pictures
I have since seen of that intermingling
of colors on that canvas.

Certainly, too many armchair lawyers
have spelt out to me
in no uncertain terms
that honest eyewitness testimony
is often the most convincing fiction
told to a jury.
Nonetheless, I still believe
I saw Vincent’s bold strokes of genius
and will withstand their withering cross examinations.

Obviously, it is too late to curate
my own perspective
and impose a new order with historical meanings,
just like I cannot retrace all my steps
made on an early morning walk
through a sprawling antique flea market,
distracted, absorbing the hidden knowledge
of how to authenticate, certify, and appraise
the aging items randomly laid out
to grab ahold of an unknown desire.

Today, backtracking through that shadowy flea market
there are unprompted questions
of brooding more on myself
than earlier in life,
and the strong suspicion that the random hunt
is now among those fading curios
and interesting, artful objects
that only an aging body can create.

Enough passing time and whodunits
have taught me
that in that dimly lit room
with its dark valuable painting
even Agatha Christie would have invented
an interesting distraction the notorious art thief,
who was hiding in the shadows,
would create and take advantage of
before grabbing this somber prize—

but to my astonishment,
I was that solitary silhouette
purloining a whole new universe

and there was no lurking guard stepping out
from a shadowy corner to chastise me
for stepping far too close to see the brush strokes,

no sympathetic security officer
in a rumpled coat and tie
noticing my surprised expression
and wearily asking what was wrong,

no indifferent caretaker recommending
a tasty Dutch ham and Gouda sandwich
in the small cafe up those overlooked steps.

Even if this was just staff being late,
or a few minutes of lackadaisical inattention,
there was offered an unforeseen aloneness
as if this split second forgot to mark
this room on any map
with a bright you-are-here arrow
to offer a sound foothold in my inner world.

Clearly, this was a private and vulnerable viewing
as I pulled up an imaginary chair
to wait while wondering if it was was thin coffee
or watered down tea
being carefully poured into cups;

to wait, while trying to recall the breakfast
of a thick slice of bread spread with creamy butter,
and then being eagerly shown
by young new friends
how to cover it all by a hailstorm
of dutch chocolate flakes;

to wait with my fork raised
for a simple meal to commence
under the minimal glow
of a Sunflower Orange flame.

Today, I believe that this short instant
was an unappreciated gift,
a dark beautiful spell
that must have silently haunted me
as it worked its way deeper into my core.

Since spending time with that painting,
I have gazed at an unbelievable wealth of exhibits
in my naive and uninformed way.
My legs cannot shake the fatigue and heaviness
from years of crisscrossing
countless hardwood floors
and endless acres of industrial carpets.

There have been an infinite number of photos,
bronze and marble sculptures,
somber or carefree paintings,
a flood of watercolors,
and countless illustrated drawings
only seen when fragile old books are left open
under protective transparent shields.
The numbness that rose up behind my eyes
has not gone away.

That vintage lantern I cannot afford
still hangs in my dream
throwing an Umber Orange glow in front of me
and it lights up their restrained facial expressions
as everyone still waits impatiently.
There is a silence, solitude, and oneness
that I am pulled into again.

I could blame all these revelations
on the bright colored poisons that most assumed
the artist ate—a notion that still tastes
like broad gestures of Harlequin Green
as if it was the wormwood Pernod Absinthe
from the eighteen-eighties
I have never tossed back.

Looking so far back, this notion often springs a trap
biting its steel jaws into the present.
This time it has caught the actual January storm.

The cold that radiates
behind the Frost Black window pane,
holds me as I circle into a new sketch.
This should be the shock
halting the confusion of murky recollections.
Instead, it finds me creatively mixing some Yellow Ochre
to force the eyewitnesses
to enter into their imaginations with me
while I impulsively savor the various pigments
Van Gogh generously discarded.

Somehow, in my struggle against the creeping night,
there was an odd burst of energy
to help an easy retreat
into a soft Flax Yellow sensation.

And that in turn led to creating a complicated blend
with a late summer Corn Yellow
just for enjoyment—

but feeling in needed more,
an Amber Resin pendant was eventually added
to float with mystical energy on a beautiful neck,

still, unsatisfied, there were some tart Lemon Yellows
on a nearby shelf
that needed to make a still life almost complete,

and not to leave anything out,
a bunch of Gold sunflowers
helped draw thing together
to wilt forever on this canvas,

followed quickly by floating
over everything with the blustery
wind blown Straw Yellow
waiting for the shiny black crows to land,

and finally, it needed a hint of morning warmth
and a soaring Burnt Umber sphere to rise
precariously balanced on the horizon
so I could brighten my mood
and push back the chair
from the oak museum piece
I see so clearly again—

but since it is difficult
to bring closure so quickly
and harmony is hard to find
when I scrape the floor
and shove away from the table
which frames the large oval serving dish
sitting forever on the rumpled linen tablecloth.

It is difficult knowing there must be a new
and uneasy equilibrium
that makes it possible to rock back on my chair,
my attention held by this unique
and frugal center of attention
exposed under a subtle spotlight—

and trying again, finally, finally, without a doubt,
it should be very clear as I precariously lean back
that the many years cannot hide
how I brush away the garden’s brown dirt
which still needs to be swept
from the kitchen floor—

and finally, finally for good,
I know how this short-lived moment
cannot underestimate the intense flavor
of the fresh dug roasted potatoes.