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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 13: May 2022
Cheribun: 305 words
+ Poet’s Commentary: 244 words
by Charmaine Smith

Dynamic Hieroglyphic
of the Bal Tabarin

—After Gino Severini*

No Edo watercolor this, the sizzling dance pinned to a spotlit floor, its diamond planes scattered for the viewer’s fly eye. Sprawled skirts with sequins like sea-foam have flushed a camel and rider out of Algiers and through bronzed leaves at the top of the room. But even here, or here especially, Gaia can’t be excluded: Disguised as the dancers, she hides cheetahs and zebras behind her skirts perhaps, throbbing with their wild impatience. She flashes a sapphire ring, glinting oceans for those who would dive in. I find her a lover in the lower right, a half-soused penguin in a blue pinstriped suit, who plucks the string bass and takes off his human face between sets to quote Dostoevsky at length. I see the artist has put me in too, above the striped pennants: a tiny black cat who floats with inscrutable gaze among peaches and hooks of flesh, unmoved, a still point in so much flashing motion.

Grapes and plums ride
pastel tears of color
down walls into boisterous curls

and did I mention the martini glasses
almost vibrating off their tables,

their hopes shining like olives?

So much happening. Maybe that’s why the women’s eyes all seem closed, as if they long for a single moment of peace, of stillness and stars, to refresh them. But Gaia knows where she’s going, no need to see. In my mind Bashō’s frog has hopped out from under the top hat and down a pink pleated stairway to the secret cistern below, where all noise fades to rumor and a wise old serpent swims back and forth, back and forth, waiting for the muds to return.

Finally unleashed,

the naked scissors
breasts and all

to trim words
from the night’s bouquet.



*Publisher’s Note:

Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin (oil and sequins on canvas, 1912) by Italian Futurist painter Gino Severini (1883–1966) is held at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City. The painting is erroneously listed at a few websites as being in the public domain; however, it’s still under copyright [© 2022 Gino Severini/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris] and thus does not appear here in MacQ.

Details and an image of the painting are available at MoMA online. (Tip: Click on the image for an enlarged view.)

Poet’s Commentary

I really enjoyed my first ekphrastic experience via this cheribun. Browsing various schools and styles of painting, the color, movement, and style of this one quickly caught my eye. I took it in as a whole, then picked out many small details I liked and made notes, jotting down words and phrases that came into my head. After making a page of notes, I slept on it and worked on other projects until I had an opening phrase and a few ending phrases or sentences. Then it was a matter of finding the right order and combination for all my impressions and imaginings, stitching them together into a pleasing composition.

I’ve always been fascinated with time and with what is hidden—what I can and can’t see in any image or situation. I always suspect that many stories lurk where the eyes can’t go. So it’s particularly fun to ask myself this set of questions about the artwork: What’s going on here? What are the most interesting things I see? What’s my overall impression, the mood of the piece? Now, where are the places I can’t see into or around? What could be happening there, and how could those events change the mood or impression I had? What other dimensions could be concealed just out of sight—secrets, emotions, insights, backstories, future possibilities, alternative explanations, other mysteries, the intangible?

Everything I wrote came from asking and answering those questions, and listening within.

Charmaine Smith
Issue 13, May 2022

lives in central coast California with her boyfriend and cat, where she writes poetry, short fiction, and essays. She is very happy to have met the cheribun through MacQ’s Cheribun Challenge. Her first short story was shortlisted in the 2021 Quantum Shorts competition. In addition to MacQueen’s Quinterly, her poetry has appeared in Better Than Starbucks.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Cheribun of the Infinite Remainder by Charmaine Smith, First Place Winner of MacQ’s Cheribun Challenge, MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 12, March 2022)

Powers of Observation, flash fiction by Ms. Smith which was short-listed for Quantum Shorts 2021 (alternating annual calls for science fiction and science films since 2012, organized by the Centre for Quantum Technologies)

Penelope on Broad Street by Ms. Smith, Honorable Mention in the 2021 Sonnet Contest at Better Than Starbucks

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