Every block of stone has a statue inside it,
and it is the task of the sculptor
to discover it.
—[attributed to] Michelangelo
I always have a good reason for taking something out,
but I never have one for
putting something in.
I went to Florence to do research on Machiavelli, but I was not at all familiar with the town. I wandered around a lot, stopping for coffee or gelato, trying to translate the Italian newspapers, and wanting to get a feel for the center of the city. I walked across a small piazza in front of a lightly colored building with multiple arches. I poked my head inside and to my surprise there was the original marble of Michelangelo’s David (a large replica of which stands in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, where, I must point out, Machiavelli worked as Secretary to the Florentine government). Off to the side of the rotunda where the David stood was a long gallery housing what looked at first like four unfinished sculptures, parts of a head, an arm, a torso or a thigh protruding from the rough stone. I took them to be very contemporary sculptures, social comment, perhaps, through the durability of stone.
it’s in the modern
sensibility to reveal
the artist’s labor
disturb the work’s seductions
keep showing us arms as stone
they are metaphors
these unfinished-looking works
oh, we’re in, we’re out
nothing’s ever been finished
or perhaps already is
said to reveal how
these forms emerge from the rock
but I imagine
the rock is closing over
forms the stone is swallowing
I’ve tried to see something in these forms to justify calling them prisoners, but they continue to look to me more like bodies in ecstasy. The secret here lies in the body straining against itself, in the throes of something (here the line between orgasm and agony dulls). But either way, the struggle against resistance is reflexive. These are bodies at war with themselves, the age-old wrestle of conscience, ego, lust, God, and pain. So, then, what does the rock mean, the uncut, guileless encompassing stone? Which way is it going—back to the quarry or forward into the world? Think about it this way: he chiseled and scraped and pounded the rock until it yielded the idea, but he chose NOT to end the rapture.
four brothers in toil
wrapped in their own twisting forms
muscles hard as rock
he had to feel the torsion
under his hands, the smooth touch
he cut them with steel
chisels and a wood mallet
pounding on the rock
with his hunger drawing forth
the skin, the muscles, the sex
God scooped up a hand
full of broken rocks, saying
“Can this be human?”
and then he turned aside while
the stone pulled creation back
And, oh yes, the beauty! I don’t care finally what the story is. To know something in the abstract, like, “Michelangelo? Ah, yes, he’s a genius,” is one thing, but to feel it in your own stomach, to feel the precision, the delicacy of these stone stomachs, is something else. It allows each generation to rediscover the perfections in the stone for itself, to marvel on its own at the inexplicable magic in his hands, the imagination that could see through stone, that could hear the cries and stifled breathing under the marble...and work urgently to set them free.
so why then can’t they
get all the way free? Why don’t
they shake off the rock
mantles they’ve been wrapped up in?
was he unsure between worlds?
can these figures reach
beneath the hard divisions
between the sexes
and boil the subdued passions
of both? Men in love with men?
all these are questions
wayfarers know at crossroads
and he carved them out
with his hammer and chisel
they called him il divino
is a retired university professor of political theory who lives in Northampton,
Massachusetts with his wife, Ann Knickerbocker, an abstract painter. He is the author
of three books of prosimetra published by KYSO Flash Press:
Touching Fire: New
and Selected Ekphrastic Prosimetra (2018),
Get Up and
Dance (2019), and Carmody & Blight: The Dialogues (2019).
Tarlton has been writing poetry and flash fiction since 2006, and his work is published
in: Abramelin, Atlas Poetica, Barnwood, Blackbox Manifold, Blue and Yellow Dog,
Cricket Online Review, Fiction International, Haibun Today, Inner Art Journal,
Jack Magazine, KYSO Flash, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Prune Juice, Rattle,
Red Booth Review, Review Americana, Shampoo, Shot Glass, Simply Haiku, Six Minute
Magazine, Sketchbook, Skylark, Tipton, and Ink, Sweat, and Tears.
He also has a poetry e-chapbook published in the 2River series,
de Piedra y de Palabra: Improvisations on Pablo Neruda’s Macchu Picchu;
a poem sequence in Lacuna entitled Five Episodes in the Navajo Degradation; and “The Turn of Art,”
a short poetical drama pitting Picasso against Matisse, composed in verse and prose,
which appeared in Fiction International.
The Miletus Torso, ekphrastic tanka prose in KYSO Flash
(Issue 9, Spring 2018), which includes an author’s note re Michelangelo’s
Author Charles D. Tarlton, with six of his ekphrastic tanka prose and an
interview with Jack Cooper, in KYSO Flash (Issue 6, Fall 2016)
⚡ Notes for a Theory of Tanka Prose: Ekphrasis and Abstract Art, a scholarly
paper by Tarlton residing in PDF at Ray’s Web; originally published in Atlas Poetica (Number 23, pages 87-95)
⚡ Three American Civil War Photographs: Ekphrasis by Tarlton in Review
Americana (Spring 2016)
⚡ Simple Tanka Prose for the Seasons, a quartet by Tarlton in Rattle
(Issue 47: Tribute to Japanese Forms, Spring 2015)