Anyone who's filled a page with wings knows the pleasure
of constructing depth. But who can tell just by looking whether
the birds move toward us or away? The hardened oil of van Gogh's
Wheatfield with Crows reveals three distinct movements:
one, the upward flick of the wrist; two, a retraction of the fingersólike
the slight, abrupt almost-collapse of a metal tent frame that kids
play camp games beneath; and three, the final, downward slope
that completes each bird into its rounded, flattened "M" shape.
A painting is an artifact of movement. The cast of a private dance
scholars spend their careers analyzing, grabbing at each crow midair
and flipping it forward and back in order to prove one theory
or another. Still, each stroke is a distinct spasm issued from
a steadied body. Her body is so still when I enter the cafeteria
for visiting hours, at first I think she's crying; her head down
deep in concentration, as I get closer I see she's just painting.
"Some birds are close," my sister says, "and some are far away."
When she pauses at the apex of a "W" to look up at me and then
her therapist, none of us know whether it's a tail or a beak being
pressed into existence. And when she shares the accompanying
story, about the time we scared four crows from a bare tree
in an empty field, she leaves me out. It's her story. And she wants
to be the type of person who goes to such places alone. It's her
idea to turn off the dirt road, to run through the dead grass
waving her arms in the air and screaming to the sky as if for rescue.
She sees the birds lift, heavy and deliberate and in unison, to fly
to the edge of the woods and warn others in the area of Danger.
"I can't go back there," she says to her therapist (or to me),
"They say a crow will remember a person's face for years."
University of Wisconsin Press