KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Tanka Tale: 470 words

A Question of Murder

by Charles D. Tarlton
CARMODY: I’ve always wondered if I could deliberately kill someone, you know?

BLIGHT: Say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys.

The new professor, teaching a class in politics at a maximum-security prison, was deadly curious about homicide. They were reading Machiavelli’s Prince and talking about cruelty and the uses of murder, but the students seemed reluctant to talk. One of them, “Jaimey,” a big Jamaican with dreadlocks, was squirming and grimacing in the back of the room. “Is something bothering you?” the new professor said.

“It ain’t like that!” Jaimey said.

“What’s not like what?”


in the hermitic
quiet of his iron cell
the criminal sits
with his memories, all that’s
left of what had been his life

The whole classroom went quiet, and the professor asked, “What’s it like, then?” After a while, Jaimey said, “I was just looking to get high. One night me and my friend held up a grocery.”

“This what you’re in prison for?” the professor asked, but Jaimey ignored him. “I had a gun just to scare the guy. So, this grocer, an old Chinese guy, starts going crazy, banging his cane on the counter and we couldn’t understand what he was saying. Then he comes after me with the cane and, I don’t know, the gun sort of went off in my hand, all by itself. I saw his face explode and I ran out of there.” He stopped talking and glanced around at the other inmates.

a reputation’s
fragile built on such stories
and he could have said
he went in there with killin’
right in the front of his mind

“God, I was so sorry,” he said. “I felt sick and I was scared. I kept running, but the pain wouldn’t go away. So, I thought to myself maybe it was partly the Chinaman’s own fault, you know. Why’d he have to carry on like that? Why didn’t he just give me the money? So, now, I’m still running and I’m thinking he must have been crazy. And he came after me, didn’t he? He couldn’t just let it go, just give me the money, no, he had to raise hell. It was his fault, the selfish son-of-a-bitch! I was glad I killed him, shit, he had it coming.”

we find out later
just why we did what we did
everything’s confused
in the moment, heat and light
intermingling in action

“And that’s where I was in terms of my thinking, you see, the bastard had it coming, and that’s right when the police caught up with me. I was still hollering when they put me in the car.”

the fever had cooled
his common sense recovered
its proper footing
life is lived now on two sides
of the wall, and in his mind

Charles D. Tarlton
Issue 8, August 2017

is a retired university professor now living in Northampton, Massachusetts, and writing poetry and flash fiction since 2006. His poems have appeared in: Jack Magazine, Shampoo, Review Americana, Tipton, Barnwood, Abramelin, Simply Haiku, Haibun Today, Atlas Poetica, Blue and Yellow Dog, Shot Glass, Sketchbook, Skylark, Six Minute Magazine, Cricket Online Review, Red Booth Review, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Inner Art Journal, Prune Juice, Rattle, Blackbox Manifold, and Ink, Sweat, and Tears.

Six of his ekphrastic tanka prose are featured in Issue 6 of KYSO Flash online and in State of the Art, the journal’s 2016 print anthology.

Tarlton 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.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

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

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