“Watching Paint Dry” by Gene Tanta

Gene Tanta


for David Dunlap

The house must notch itself out
of the nothingness that contains it.
Each room must fashion itself out

of the furrow that contains each room.
Every wall must carve itself out
of the crease that contains it.

And all of the paint must pour itself out
of the pleat that contains the paint.
And the paint brush must grope itself

into the gathering that contains it.
And the can of paint must groom itself
into the groove that contains the can of paint.

And the roller must slurp itself out
of the larger slurp that contains it.
And the trim brush must get itself out

of the bankruptcy that contains the trim brush.
The beveled bristles must goose themselves out
of the gutter that contains them.

Breath, too, must run itself out
of the rut that contains breath.
But it must run back in.

from Rattle #59, Spring 2018
Tribute to Immigrant Poets


Gene Tanta: “I grew up in the Socialist Republic of Romania (1974–1984) under the Ceausescu regime. Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to be an artist. I also felt the impossible weight of it. And so did my parents, and wanting nothing but the best for my fingernails and toenails, we emigrated from Romania when I was ten. As a first-generation immigrant, I acquired English as a second language by watching TV reruns like Gilligan’s Island and perking up to Chicago street slang. To strategically essentialize based on my experience, I would agree that ESL poets tend to hear English from the outside of its figurative echo chamber because the need to communicate with a new language demands sensitive attention to it as material. It does for me, anyway. The shock of the idiomatic delights my foreign ear because, as a foreigner, I hear the wisdom of a culture in its slang and in its clichés. This way, the road to our myth of origins is paved with the give of the figurative, with those attempts to catch a glimpse of the essence of a place in time. As an estranged person with creative tendencies, I take delight in these loaded everyday sayings and renew my poetic license at every turn of phrase.” (web)

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