KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Ekphrastic
Tanka Prose:
 
625 words

Paul Cézanne’s Kitchen Table
(Still Life with Fruit Basket)

by Charles D. Tarlton
 

Kitchen Table (Still Life with Fruit Basket): painting by Paul Cézanne

But no word will ever be spoken here, among the flowers and snails, the solid and dependable apples, this heap of rumpled books, this pewter plate on which
a few opened oysters lie, giving up their silver.


—Mark Doty[2]

1

In still lifes Time comes to a stop; we might better call them dead stills (the phrase for still life in French is, after all, Nature morte). All still lifes represent the experience of Time, but turned around. In reality, life rushes past us, through us, propelling us to the end, to the stillness, to death. Our lives are like the fruit in Sam Taylor’s Still Life, where a bowl of fresh peaches, pears, and grapes decays, in a time-lapse video, down to a giant petri dish of collapsing green, gray, and furry mold. In Cézanne’s picture Time stands still, has stood still, for more than a century. If we could stop Time, we would also stop dead, like the fruit in Cézanne’s painting.

the table’s surface
if viewed at the speed of light
is an illusion
of substantiality
energy and mass the same

each substantial bit
little more than electrons
whirling in orbit
creating plasma force fields
which make an oak door solid

from the right angle
of vision, even fresh fruit
is always already
decaying; our bodies age
and die while we’re still watching

2

The painting is divided into two spaces or sections; the first and the largest occupies two thirds of the canvas, starting in the lower right corner and moving upwards and out; the second is in the upper left corner, moving downwards. The kitchen table, in the first space, holds fruit, a full basket, a small coffee pot, what looks like a sugar bowl, and a raffia-corded ginger jar, all of which seem perched, ready to tumble off onto the floor, though they cannot. Yet, in the other space, the compteur and its contents, the chair, and the Matisse-like tapestry in the upper left, are secure, their surfaces oblique to the kitchen table’s. This imbalance, this energy in the composition, intensifies the painting’s depiction of stopped Time, and cannot help but illustrate the moving eye.

none would be tempted
to eat this scuffed-up wooden fruit
its dark outlines tell
you this is a picture, not
real pears. Pot and sugar bowl

shrink back from the edge
of the white linen precipice
while a viewer’s gaze runs
here and there on the canvas
trying to see everything

shifting attitudes
mimic Eadweard Muybridge’s
Sallie Gardner at a Gallop
twelve photos as the horse ran by
gave the idea of motion

3

For many years, while our children were growing up, we travelled to France in the summer, renting gîtes (modest furnished country houses), shopping in the local markets, and otherwise living as habitants. Each gîte was different, of course, but they were also very much alike, not least for their old family furnishings. In the kitchens, especially, we would always find things like copper pots and pans, a cracked ceramic pitcher, a bud vase, old mixing bowls, wax fruit, a salt box, a wire basket, espresso pot, a chinois, and a cast-iron cocotte. Sometimes, as we were washing up after supper, we remarked how the drain board looked like a carefully arranged still life. Next day it would be gone.

the urge to preserve
moments monitored by things
recalling the touch
of a fresh peach, an apple
in the shadow of a cup

on television
nothing but French news programs
impenetrable
talent shows, laughing at jokes
we could never understand

a broken croissant
butter and jam on a plate
pitchers of coffee
and hot milk—a rapprochement
worthy of a great painter

 

 

Publisher’s Notes:

1. Paul Cézanne’s original oil-on-canvas painting, Kitchen Table (Still Life with Fruit Basket) [La table de cuisine (Nature morte au panier)] (1888–1890), resides at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The reproduction above was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons under United States public-domain license (PD-1923).

2. The epigraph “But no word will ever be spoken here....” is from Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy (Beacon Press, 2002), Mark Doty’s book-length meditation on the painting by Jan Davidsz de Heem.

[See also The Lessons of Objects: An Interview with Mark Doty by Andrew David King in Kenyon Review (12 December 2012).]

Charles D. Tarlton
Issue 10, Fall 2018

is a retired university professor who lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife, Ann Knickerbocker, an abstract painter. 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 has also published a poetry e-chapbook in the 2River series, entitled La Vida de Piedra y de Palabra (a free translation of Neruda); a tragic historical western in poetry and prose, “Five Episodes in the Navajo Degradation,” in Lacuna; and “The Turn of Art,” a short poetical drama pitting Picasso against Matisse, composed in verse and prose, which appeared in Fiction International.

[Tarlton’s ekphrastic tanka prose are featured in State of the Art, the 2016 KYSO Flash print anthology. Two others appear in Issue 8 online. Links to additional ekphrastic works by Tarlton, and to his essay on ekphrasis and abstract art, are listed below.]

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

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, an essay 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)

Rowing Home, Tarlton’s ekphrastic tanka prose on the watercolor by Winslow Homer, in Contemporary Haibun Online (January 2018)

Simple Tanka Prose for the Seasons, a quartet by Tarlton in Rattle (Issue 47: Tribute to Japanese Forms, Spring 2015)

La Vida de Piedra y de Palabra: Improvisations on Pablo Neruda’s Macchu Picchu, Tarlton’s e-chapbook of a dozen poems, with the author reading several aloud; chapbook is also available in PDF, with cover art by Ann Knickerbocker

Paul Cézanne,
Issue 10, Fall 2018

“the father of modern art,” was born in Aix-en-Provence (aka Aix), France, in 1839 and died in 1906 in the city of his birth. He is considered among the greatest of the Post-Impressionist painters, known especially for his varied painting style. While his art was discredited by the public and panned by critics during most of his life, works from his last three decades influenced the aesthetic development of 20th-century artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.

In 1895, art dealer Ambroise Vollard arranged a show of Cézanne’s works in Paris and promoted them successfully over the next few years. By 1904, Cézanne was featured in a major official exhibition, and by the time of his death two years later he had attained legendary status. His art is now seen as the essential link between the ephemeral aspects of Impressionism and the more materialist movements of Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism, and even complete abstraction.

(Sources include biographies of the artist at The Art Story: Modern Art Insight and Paul Cezanne dot org, retrieved 14 August 2018.)

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