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April 2019 Vol. 15 No. 1

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Charles Tarlton

Feeding the Seagulls on Bailey Island, Maine

She has one strange fancy; she always signs herself “The Sea-gull.”
                                                                              — Anton Checkov

Three dimensions define the art present in this image – there is the actual dumping of the kitchen scraps as that might have occurred, there is the photograph that captured whatever of that could be recorded, and then there is this sketch that reaches back through the visual layers to what can be said with pencil, gray watercolor wash, and white. We don’t know from this sketch who the worker was, what she was feeding to the gulls, or where exactly she was standing. What we have here is a depiction of the action itself, the action of someone emptying something, nowhere in particular. The sketch suggests a human body, shoes and clothing, garbage can, and action. We ourselves provide the missing squawks of hungry circling seagulls, the smell of the sea, the tide-smoothed sand, and the sound of the surf. Art does not so much reveal things, then, as it makes us imagine them.

art always falls short
of things. Michelangelo
cursed the resistant
stone that failed to come to life
he was just making statues

in imitation
of the real hard rock chiseled
to resemble silk
though it refused to billow
in the most untamed tempest

right up to the edge
but never making it through
to become more than
cut, split, polished monolith
dead thing for us to think on

Summers in Maine near the mouth of the Kennebec they dig for clams; the locals rinse and keep the shells for flower beds and paths. When you walk on the beach you sometimes find the hollowed shell of a crab or even a lobster claw. The seagulls pick up clams or large mussels, carry them high up in the air and then drop them on the rocks. They descend and test if the shell has broken. If not, they carry them up and drop them again. In the end, while feasting on a freshly opened quahog, they have to fight their less resourceful brethren away.

middens of mollusks
– mussels, clams, and Pemaquids
(oysters taken from
the tidal Damariscotta
Abnaki for little-fish-river)

finally make their way
piled high ahead of the rising
tides. In time to come
Time and the sea will grind them
to the finest sparkling sand

and still the seagulls
circling, cry their raucous cries
of indignation
fight, and arch their angry wings
to drive each other away

At Sumner Beach on the South Island of New Zealand there was a fish-and-chip place right on the sand. It was just a window, really, in the back of the Fish Shop where they featured the owner’s catch of the day, either as fresh or cooked up with potato wedges fried in dripping. The owner was a fisherman and each night he sailed out and came back in the early hours with his catch. He’d unload cod, mackerel, and bream and go to bed, leaving his wife to cook and sell the fish and chips on the beach. After sleeping late and maybe having slight hangovers we used to walk down to the beach, get fish and chips, and eat them on a bench on the promenade. The seagulls would appear out of nowhere and circle loudly around. If you held up a fried potato wedge in your hand they’d fly by and take it from your fingers, tomato sauce and all.

but there are no gulls
in the picture, you notice
just hints of pencil
and water paint. There are
no hands even, or feet

it’s all suggestion
just a wiggly line or two
a swipe of color
making us question just how
much detail does a face need

the trashcan, figure
and action are encompassed
by a rectangle
penciled around them for scale
– a Vitruvian woman


Note: Watercolor and pencil sketch on paper by Kay Brigante from her photo of a female restaurant worker feeding scraps to seagulls on Bailey Island, Maine.


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