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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 5: October 2020
Tanka Prose: 347 words
By Charles D. Tarlton

Girl With Seagulls, Trouville 1


Girl With Seagulls, Trouville: painting (1865) by Gustave Courbet

And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

—Mary Oliver 2

In the seventeenth century, Dutch and Flemish artists like Pieter Rysbrack, Frans Snijders, Jan Weenix, and others realistically depicted pheasants, long billed woodcocks, pigeons, snipes, herons, hanging partridges, and such in the larder; they displayed flair in the painting of feathers on dead birds. Here, in Courbet’s picture, the soft, bemused face of the beachcomber’s daughter looks at us over the dead bodies of seagulls likely gathered on the beach. Her feathers would probably be sent to Paris milliners to adorn fashionable ladies’ hats. Almost nobody eats seagulls, anymore.

like a Renaissance 
	angel’s, her golden chevelure 
her tapered bindle stick 
	singes the dead feathers 

more than seabirds 
	the ocean casts up pieces 
of sandalwood, bechê-de-mer, 
sea-glass and tortoise-shell 
	messages in bottles 

Oh, papa, j’ai trouvé 
	des mouettes! 
sifting through sand today 
a retired salesman listens 
	for the sound of treasure 

	after the cry 
of the herring gull 
	quiet echoes 

“‘Hope’ is the thing,” Emily Dickinson wrote, “with feathers—That perches in the soul.” Not so securely, though, but exposed to storms. Here in Old Saybrook, when the nor’easter blows from down east to here, the wind can sometimes tear the birds out of their nests. Seagulls, osprey, and egrets are sometimes to be seen, not yet fully aware what’s going on, dancing on the coming wind, seduced by how gradually the wind pursues its stormy pace. The big seagull that sits on the rotting pier is far from humble; in New Zealand when I lived there the gulls would take French fries right out of your hand.

the dead birds 
	might have had dreams 
of reputation 
imagined themselves perched 
	their wisdom widely sought 

	but any dreams now 
have turned to drying 
feathers, to meat 
	hanging from a stick 
hardly casting a shadow 

it’s almost never new 
poetry, not any of it 
	but all in the retelling 
    the hungry poets 
putting their stamp on things 

a seagull 
	squawking behind glass 
in another dimension 


Publisher’s Notes:

1. Girl With Seagulls, Trouville (oil on canvas, 1865) by Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) resides in a private collection, and is reproduced here from Wikimedia Commons.

2. Epigraph is from “Swan” by Mary Oliver (1935–2019), in her book Swan: Poems and Prose Poems (Beacon Press, 2019).

Charles D. Tarlton
Issue 5, October 2020

is a retired university professor of political theory who lives in Old Saybrook, Connecticut with his wife, Ann Knickerbocker, an abstract painter, and a Standard Poodle named Nikki. 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).

He also has a poetry e-chapbook published in the 2River series, La Vida de Piedra y de Palabra: Improvisations on Pablo Neruda’s Macchu Picchu; an experimental prosimetrum in Lacuna entitled Five Episodes in the Navajo Degradation; “The Rock in a Jar,” an extended prose poem in several parts in Gone Law 32; and “The Turn of Art,” a short prosimetrical drama pitting Picasso against Matisse, in Fiction International.

Tarlton has been writing poetry and flash fiction since 2006, and his work is published in: Abramelin, Atlas Poetica, Barnwood, Blackbox Manifold (UK), Blue and Yellow Dog, Book Ends Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Contemporary Haibun Online, Cricket Online Review, Dark Matter, Fiction International, Haibun Today, Ilanot Review, Inner Art Journal, Innisfree Poetry Journal, Jack Magazine, KYSO Flash, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, London Grip, Muse India, Palette Poetry, Peacock Journal, Prune Juice, Randomly Accessed Poetics, Rattle, Red Booth Review, Red Lights, Review Americana, Ribbons, Shampoo, Shot Glass, Simply Haiku, Six Minute Magazine, Sketchbook, Skylark, Spirit Wind Gallery, Tallow Eider Quarterly, The American Aesthetic, The Ekphrastic Review, The Houston Literary Review, tinywords, Tipton, Unbroken Journal, Undertow Tanka Review, and Ink, Sweat, and Tears.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Artifact With Steam (2019) by Ann Knickerbocker, ekphrastic tanka prose in the e-collection Get Up and Dance featured in KYSO Flash (Issue 12, Summer 20189)

Featured 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)

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