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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 6, Number 3, September 2012

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Charles Tarlton
Oakland, California, USA


Four Observations from the Back Seat

1. Markings

Of course, I know all the reasons why this is none of my business, but I never will understand why so many people today cover themselves with tattoos; disfigurement, I keep thinking.

both legs were scarred
by fire when he was a child
. . . his brother set it
playing with matches and gasoline
in a tree house in the yard

From the small delicate stock butterflies and flowers on a wrist, to arms and legs covered with bold generic lightning bolts and spider webs—could the tattoo rage reflect something more sinister than just conformity or iconoclasm?

some can grow hair
wear pants down below their buttocks
or, spiritually
a beard betokening their
status as true outliers

Imagine all the lawyers, doctors, managers, engineers, and professors nonchalantly showing up at their offices, arms and torsos colorfully tattooed. Would everyone then gush, and rush up regard their voguish designer dragons, crosses, tigers and bells?

conspicuous
then, the exorbitant costs
chilled mineral water
in the waiting rooms, John Varvatos
black leather, very militaire

2. Out on the Street

It defies a sympathetic understanding, though, to think he saw the world around him through the lens of his own mind. Of course, in basic ways, he was just like you or me; he rose, dressed, went out, and came in. But he babbled a lot, and often roared.

murmuring songs
that played constant in his head
made him gyrate
slightly, when he was walking
wriggle, when he sat in a chair

Generally, people moved around him, like a wreck, some still talkative, but many became suddenly quiet. His eyes took it all in—the derelicts, the very prosperous, the police, the aprons of the commercial world—noting who was young and who old.

ordinary
people who live on the veneer
barely able
to hold on, to keep from slipping
down into the abysm.

He imagined each had lived a life just like his own; had begun right enough, rose up, but now teetered on the brink; he had barely enough imagination for that. He looked into the eyes of passersby, but they shied and looked quickly away.

can’t hold him down
he writes just like a writer
explores too deeply
words to the right sensibility
implausible, they still ring true

3. No Prisoners

When young soldiers were whistled up and out of the trenches and, slowly in a crouch, advanced across no man’s land, and the shells were exploding around them, and the cries of the wounded were burning in their ears . . .

my rum ration
fear’s libation poured before
hysteria
descended. At the end of the day
a drink right now, let’s have a drink

. . . was it so different from life in general, once you’ve reached your middle seventies, and all around you, friends and total strangers your same age are dying with alarming regularity?

narrow passages
that bump and jostle our advance
an ache here, there
new pains rattling in the knees
light-headed when you try to stand

A statistically predictable expectancy that doubtless covers both cases, a brittle anxiety increasing with every step, and it’s impossible to take a really deep breath.

indomitable
the way I get up every day
and throw myself
into the torrent of chance
watching my bodily signs

4. Looking for Wallace Stevens

I am now imagining a long rainy street in Hartford, Connecticut, with beautiful big houses all along it, not far from where Asylum Avenue bends and crosses the Hog River.

pushing poems out
under desperate imagined gulls
naming the singers
counting all the birds on the beach
weaving them in with the sands

It is raining, as I said, and the sky is coming down on top of us, darkening. There is a wind coming up that blows the rain along. No one is out walking on the street, but several cars slide past, making the sounds that tires make on wet asphalt, their wipers throwing the rain.

turning inward
under the eaves, now in shadow
where I’m listening
to Nature’s rhythms making
music rain, and leaves are singing

In one of these nice old houses, a banker’s house or a doctor’s, a man at a desk is writing—“It is as if we had come to an end of the imagination . . .”

snowy blackbirds
under sudden old snowy bushes
count musically
ring their changes on guitars
call out over the crashing waves

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