Jerome Rothenberg: Three poems after 'Images' by Nancy Tobin

[As I approach the seven-year mark of Poems and Poetics, I thought it appropriate to re-post the initial offering in the series, first posted herein on June 7, 2008.  Published later that year as a small book from a resuscitated Hawk's Well Press (my own first press from the 1960s), two of the images appear here and here on the internet,  and copies of the whole can still be ordered from Small Press Distribution. My own brief comments on our collaboration & Tobin’s more extensive description of her aims & working process follow the poems, below. (J.R.)]


Waiting for Seurat

waiting for seurat
is not so bad is not

what everybody thinks of
standing in a fish tank

arms akimbo legs too
when the bathers fail to make

the morning’s exercise
forsaken all awash

as I am too
but now

the final holiday draws nigh
some sunday afternoon

the chime has chimed
the branches overhang

the crowd of watchers
& it’s time

to coax the children
back into the car

to leave the dishes
& the soap behind

the other little friends
so soon departed

still we wait for them
we are the walkers

in the park
& if we fall into the lake

a second time
the acrobats will scoop us out

will whisk us home
like children

neither lost nor found
our bodies & our thoughts

like tiny flecks
& little reckoning

the time it takes
to sink or swim

still bug eyed
half alive

the big bowl broken
waiting for seurat

Dystopia Parkway

how far he dives
into a sandbox
lights erupting flicker

down a parkway
riding to the Star Hotel
a place to watch

the stars on carpets
sidewalks stitched into a
pure dystopia

as one by one
we dance
for all the children

in the world
my temper will ignite
feed you my flames

a red confusion
opens to the right of us
we raise white fingers

stubby arms
a forest of computer
screens alight

the parkway filled with
phantom windows mothers
can stare out from

their dystopias
more like a fact of life
seeing that nothing

can cohere however
solid are the walls
however bright

soap bubbles floating
over broken glass
the perch deserted where

birds seldom sang
the parkway packed into
a sun box flat

I carry underneath
my coat the memory of where
we all will live

a family of artists
each one with a simple story
resolved to bring it home

The Best Thing
About Sunday

is the color
& the next best
how the little folk
find here a place to fly

balloons & kites
rummage among the broken
mother boards

how pink & paper thin
the world appears
to be a field of pinwheels
driven by the wind

& spinning
line on line
& circle into circle
strings cut free

these are the gifts
they bring us these
are what we throw
into the air & see them

flying by
the children’s room
a little brighter
walking cockeyed looking

for the wind to stop
then we can find
the best thing about sunday
eggs & eyes

adornments cars that run
on spirits wheels
too precious for the road
a pig that squeals

NOTE. The initiatory act here follows from Tobin's quasi-abstract images and her assessment of the mysteries and revelations that her art provides her: “I construct both my paintings and works on paper as a dialogue between the representational and ornamental; which party gets the last word remains a mystery until the composition is complete. I start with painted or drawn images, then literally cut them down to size with scissors before reassembling the components on painted panels or into ‘quilted’ paper compositions that I treat with successive layers of paint, ink and polymer. This break-‘em-down-to-build-‘em-up methodology is my way of capturing moments in an expanding universe. Representation is as powerful as it futile. Any tableau is illusory; even mountains are in constant flux. Particles decay, light bends, and perceptions alter with each recollection. My technique in turn encourages the viewer to approach each work with a forensic eye: to examine the constituent parts and try to reconstruct their pedigree, then step in and take in the totality of color and form. The layers I create fade into opacity, however firmly each is fixed in memory. Try to peel them back with your eyes, and you'll reach a new level each time.”