Charles Tarlton




I go to great pains to mask the agony. But the struggle is there. 

It’s the invisible enemy.

— Richard Diebenkorn



He made this image

(carved it and smoothed it over)

expressing it by marks


in his mind; wordly and unseen

as quickly written over, stretched into full words

and the marks only at first suggested


in his ear she’d whispered — “bird”

(but he wasn’t listening, did not hear)

and he flapped his wetted wings


The painted image is just that,

the thing painted, not some standing in.

An adequate description


would have to trace infinitesimal specifics

of length, width, and thickness,

pick a shade of color from the chart,


note granularity and sheen,

locate it with calipers on the canvas

alongside similar patterns not the same,


and on and on the never finished, never ending


and then to have just that repeated


because it’s nothing else.

When the painted image told a story

we could capture that


in words and sentences because

well, narrative is narrative;

but when the painted thing’s unrecognizable


what we call a splotch or blob,

oh, it’s tempting to define it

by his exertions painting it.




Charles Tarlton is retired from university teaching and has been writing tanka prose (and poetry more generally) full time since 2006. His wife, Ann Knickerbocker, ( is  an abstract painter and they and work in Northampton, Mass.



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