Three Figures, by Matthew Woodman

Matthew Woodman teaches writing at California State University, Bakersfield and is the founding editor of Rabid Oak. His poems appear in recent issues of Sonora Review, Placeholder, The Invisible Bear, Oxidant/Engine, and Sierra Nevada Review, and more of his work can be found at


          (after Rufino Tamayo’s Amantes, 1943)

do not tap the glass
it disturbs the animals

who have it hard enough
what with all the holding

of hands and attempts at eye
contact please do not feed

the animals become
dependent be sure to keep

car windows rolled up
to avoid collateral

depression please do not
sit climb or lean on fences

we are not responsible
for damages direct

indirect incidental
or consequential please

lock the door when you leave

The Pearl

          (after Rufino Tamayo’s La perla, 1950)

Dreams form when an irritant
not the proverbial grain
of sand irrupts the mantle
a response analogous
to an immune defense
just like the shell of a clam
dream composed of calcium
carbonate in crystalline
minute themes deposited
concentric layer upon
layer of iridescent
nacre until a lustrous
moon can be pried free and crushed
for cosmetics medicines
and pigment
expressions are difficult
to distinguish and cultured
smiles may appear authentic
authorities recommend
casting not your confusions
before non-participants
in all that may be eclipsed
by coating aspiration
in reflected diffracted
translucent stories we tell
by rubbing across our teeth
the way we’d like them to be

Three Figures

          (after Rufino Tamayo’s Tres figuras, 1966)

Alebrije as a word did not exist
but now indicates painted sculptures
fantastical creatures fashioned first
from cardboard and papier-mâché
then carved from copal unnaturally
colored frequently featuring wings
fierce teeth     bulged eyes     horns
icons of indeterminate unity
a fever dream of the subconscious
festival manifest in aniline
then acrylic     a solid undercoat
over which lay contrasting patterns

A coyote azure with crescent eyes
furred in cerulean and lavender
his head thrown howl back     his tail
massive courtesy of Gil Santiago
my jackrabbit by the hands of Jose
Olivera Perez outlimbed as if
in flight     a black undercarriage
trimmed with red eyed racing
stripes against gray the back     purple
gold constellation     the left ear quivers
falls out if you’re not careful

I can’t quite distinguish the three figures
in Tamayo’s painting     I could impose
boundary lines in my mind’s eye     but
that wouldn’t be true now would it

The Window

          (after Rufino Tamayo’s La ventana, 1932)

Progress can’t help
but shoot the empties
does not doubt
will finish

the legwork
scoping inefficiencies
filing its foot down
on the neck

dropping negative elements
from fatal elevations

it has
to be done

to fathom a healthy

building a better
consequently checking
all the boxes


if you’re not with us
you’re not here