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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 7, Number 4, December 2013


Charles Tarlton
Oakland, California, USA

from The Art of Interpretation:
Tanka-Prose Studies of Some Classic American Short Poems


I am what is around me.
Women understand this.
One is not duchess
A hundred yards from a carriage.
These, then are portraits:
A black vestibule;
A high bed sheltered by curtains.
These are merely instances.

         —Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923), Others: An Anthology of the New Verse,
             ed. Kreymborg (1917)

What is hidden is not important; it is the hiding that counts for everything. Canyon wrens are all song, for example. Who has ever seen one? A handful of dried leaves, when they finally fall to earth, whorls of old string blown along in the dirt. But, the canyons echo with their song in the red crystal of sunset.

something rubs off
rises from
tiles in the road
the constant traffic

those first discussions
one fiction piled
on another
books of old photos
recent incidents

All recurrences of a particular word in a poem pull toward each other magnetically. Consider even a random list—blood orange, a blood-red sunset, blood tests, our blood relations, bloody shame—this is ruddled language, red stuck on.

stare at
the mulberry sun
a flat sea;
clouds bed down
along the horizon

the sky cerise
red beams light up
this rose before
flushed petals
wrinkle and fall

In synecdoche, the part stands for the whole, the whole for the part. Surrounded by whispers, she became merely a rumor.

on the windows
of French houses
are tightly closed
all night

a softer light, oh
and purple shadows!
at day’s closing
where are the sun’s
lost hot smells

What does it matter, near or far? Are we looking for ourselves or trying to get out of our own skins? As we move in our little orbits, we are surely changing. The dance hall where we were a moment ago we are away from now. We ride these appearances like dreams, our surroundings fading, first, and then growing bright again.

some heavy hand
drew lines
notwithstanding art;
erased them
all but the glimpse

on each city street
clicking wildly—
people moving
with no place to rest

“Earth! My Likeness!”

Earth! my likeness!
Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric
I now suspect that is not all;
I now suspect there is something fierce in you, eligible
to burst forth;
For an athlete is enamored of me—and I of him,
But toward him there is something fierce and terrible
in me, eligible to burst forth,
I dare not tell it in words—not even in these songs.

         —Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1860)

I see the earth in perspective, and it’s no angel’s view down from heaven. The earth from space, a calm blue-eyed exterior floating in the ether. Calm is a clue for madness, perhaps, massing pressure from within to a bursting point! What, exactly, are his suspicions; desires wound up tight, waiting to explode?

jumping sparks
positive to negative
blows out the lights
from the moon
a crescent earth

expectant world
with hidden love
“deliver me, deliver me!”
the lover cries

He refuses to tiptoe, this shameless wanderer and bawdy song-singer. Compares himself to the bulging organ of the earth set to discharge like the jewelweed’s seedpods when they are touched. Comes out of the shadows, all but stares us down.

along an open road
his song
trolling castaways
lost jetsam thrown
into his sea

brazen lover
hard as steel, American
his core
lessons how to feel
know ourselves

That is how life is lived—coming always out of the dark and into the dark, catching only glimpses through passing windows, our black train speeding through a blacker night.

into the bright sun
everything we are
now in nakedness

waiting under a light
our skins jumping
in anticipation

Fearful and mute, he often just talks around it, using code and apt allusion. But, here, he has come forward to the footlights, leaned into the audience, but then just whispered his intent. “I am loved, but the world erupts in me, the pent up pressures of volcanoes spewing smoke and fire to the sky.” Didn’t he say that?

He: just love
He: and love
sentiments emit as one
just how we feel
about it all

a smile and a kiss
beneath cherries
ready to bloom
his young heart
is bursting



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