KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 6: Fall 2016
Tanka Prose: 464 words

Paul Klee’s Highways and Byways
[Hauptweg und Nebenwege]

by Charles D. Tarlton

Painting by Paul Klee: Highways and Byways [Hauptweg und Nebenwege]

It comes about that the drifting of these curtains
Is full of long motions; as the ponderous
Deflations of distance....

—Wallace Stevens


Here the questions to consider are: 1) whether abstract art searches beyond the surface of painting to find the synthesis of color and form, or 2) should we look for a kind of surreptitious encoding of what might otherwise be imagined as natural objects? Surface images might resemble animals or plowed fields and, as in an optical illusion, one might search for signs of real things, but in so doing we miss the fact of the painting—that it is an idea of paint.

worrying canvas
fussing around the edges
hesitant to mark
lest we commit too early
and miss the magical stroke

all around the room
there are objects tempting you
“Oh, please.  Make me”
they cry, the table and chair
so you draw a long black line

how do ideas come?
washed up like quixotic jetsam
you rush to it
draw shading, paste on ribbons
make it a little different


Colors between roughly parallel lines, lines drawn by hand and painted in, making a lattice work and woven text; you’d like to know the pattern, pick up on the rhythm, and get an idea of what it means. So, your glance races around, peering into corners and around the edges. There can be no final outcome to such searching; you never figure out what it is. It is a work of process, a work of looking.

if I got under
his skin, made discoveries
of things he’d written
what he thought he was about
what the little boxes meant

there’s no narrative
but we see a battered logic
in the colored shapes
one thing, and that thing again
row upon row, like marchers

a difficult thing 
to understand is the patience
needed to repeat
endlessly across canvas
a shape of few dimensions


There are no misty castles here, no rainbows, no tranquil valleys, no lovely princesses, no pageantry, and no flowers—but the thing is beautiful all the same. The way the colors are aligned, the angles that the big and little containers take, ranging in a indiscernible logic, invisibly there from the start. Look for pencil marks. It sets the view up, establishing anticipation, and then fulfills it. What else could beauty be?

in little bundles
of color, rubbing against
each other, lining 
up in wavy rows wiggling
trying to arrange themselves

made the same way
all things are made with paint 
everything depends
on just where you are standing
and something about the light

you should imagine
each one, though they are alike
was separately
thought out. Attention given
down to the last detail



Publisher’s Notes:

1. The epigraph above is from the poem “The Curtains in the House of the Metaphysician” by Wallace Stevens.

2. The painting above by Paul Klee is in the public domain, and the reproduction was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.


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