The Grasshopper on Van Gogh’s Olive Trees

by Lucas Carpenter

Tech experts found it interred in the paint,
a husk of the torso in light vegetation green,
evidence of the flying insect hazard
of plein air painting. There must be
more bug corpses buried in the corpus
of his work. He once complained
about picking flies from fresh creations.

But as an art prof might ask a class,
“Does the presence of grasshopper remains
alter how we experience this work of art?”
One in the front: “No, because you can’t
see them without X-ray vision.”
One in the back: “But once you know
the grasshopper’s there you can never
see the painting in the same way again. Instead, it
becomes something like Olive Trees with Hidden Grasshopper.”
The prof appears pleased.

I don’t care.
It’s now a known accident.
Even if you think about it every time you see it,
it’s just a painting, like you
are just a living animal
destined for death,
like the grasshopper once was,
and the painter, too.


Lucas Carpenter is the author of three collections of poetry, one book of literary criticism, a collection of short stories, and many poems, essays, and reviews published in more than twenty-five periodicals, including Prairie Schooner, The Minnesota Review, College Literature, Beloit Poetry Journal, Kansas Quarterly, Carolina Quarterly, Concerning Poetry, Poetry (Australia), Southern Humanities Review, College English, Art Papers, San Francisco Review of Books, Callaloo, Southern History Journal, Chicago Quarterly Review, Short Story, Berkeley Fiction Review, the Chattahoochee Review and New York Newsday. He is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Emory University.

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