Diane Pitochelli (second from right) accepting the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement Poet Laureateship.
Diane M. Pitochelli is the 2007-2008 Poet Laureate of the Harvard University Institute for Learning in Retirement. She received a BA in Biology from Emmanuel College, Boston and an MA in Zoology from Smith College with honors. She studied at the Tyler School of Art in Rome, and graduated from Harvard University's Institute for Landscape Design. In her various careers she was a college educator, professional film, video and TV scriptwriter, producer/director and communications consultant/manager as well as a poet and visual artist. Diane's artwork is in the collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art and private collections in the United States and Europe.
Diane Pitochellli (center) at Smith, 1964
Van Gogh in Straw Hat
You surprise me every time I come through the front door,
as though you were a stranger who came in while I was out
and made yourself at home, sitting on my sofa, waiting for me.
I like the way you fool me every time.
That startling instant of awe,
until I recognize your seeking, beseeching face
is on the cover of our propped-up book …
the one I bought at the Museum the day I went to see your portraits
and had to fall in love with paint all over again.
Your penetrating gaze always pulls me over to you
and I drop everything I’m toting onto the seat of the old rocking chair.
I lean over and study the way you applied the paint,
the illusion of it all …
the seething strokes that hover over the two-dimensional surface,
transforming substance into specter.
I follow the long curved horizontal lines of your straw hat’s brim,
a loose weaving of ochres, pastel Indian and Chromium yellows.
I sink into and whirlpool in your energy-intense eyes
that lock onto my soul on a radio frequency for the tormented, W-ANGST.
I slip down over the lustrous, painterly planes of your cheeks,
your foreshortened forehead, your strong Flanders nose,
that ear, attached like a piece of child’s poster board …
all flesh blue, white, pink and red pigment dashes that won’t stay still,
defining and redefining your humanity.
I wander down and lose myself in your strawberry blond beard,
that chaos of vertical brushstrokes that leap around
like Blues notes on an electric guitar.
I sit next to you and exhale an atonal sigh.
I want to suggest we set up easels side by side,
so I could try a little talk therapy with you,
while we were occupied painting a still life
of forsythia and daffodils, cut from my yard
and arranged haphazardly in a celadon green vase.
I would gradually lead you away from a winter’s mind
and the memories of the Potato Eaters.
I would be careful not to mention Paul,
unless you brought up the topic.
I would ask after Madame Berceuse and her baby Marcelle,
with the chunky wrists, the pinky ring, the lace cap
and those pop eyes.
And we would laugh.
I would ask about elegant Madame Giroux
and the down-to-earth postman and the mysterious gypsy woman.
Who was she anyway?
And how was Doctor Felix Rey?
And when we had finished painting,
I would suggest we go down to the Café du Tambourin
and sit at a table with Toulouse, while he sketched
and we sipped wine and forgot all about tomorrow.