Neil Ellman – Five Poems


Old Man Counting

(after the drawing by Paul Klee)

The old man counts
his rosary beads
as if they were his days
one after the other
in even rituals of time
never ending they seem
to be recounted as many times
as he could feel
the perfect roundness
of his life
each one a prayer
that the next will be
as perfect as the last
and he will live
as long  as they are round.


Serpent Sun—Triptych

(after the Painting by Rik Lina)

Three serpents
from a woven basket
rise and sway
to a charmer’s pipe
shedding their skins
much as the earth
sheds waves of light
from a living sun
an end to music,
creation and dance
three suns on fire       
each a serpent
rising and setting
in the final hour
of dusk.


I See Again in Memory My Dear Udnie

(after the painting by Francis Picabia)

There is no photograph
no painted likeness of her face
no moving picture
dancing with her eyes
across a silver screen.

And yet, in my memory,
In the stubbornness of light
I see her in her truest form
without hyperbole
and caricature of age.

Dear Udnie, dream or real,
I will recollect
and reconstruct your face    
from fragments of the past
and fading memories
to make you seem
as if you were alive.


The Blue Phantom     

(after the painting by Wols)

Whatever turned the phantom blue
like a chameleon
from pacific gray to malevolent blue
the air it breathes, the land and sea
to the color of a violent ghost
it knew what blue must mean
in the spectrum of the eyes and mind
like a specter clothed in blue,
a shroud in blue
the shadow of the moon
upon a peaceful earth
it knew, it knew
that blue would be the palette
of its world.


The Chemist of Anpurden in Search
of Absolutely Nothing

(after the painting by Salvador Dali)

He searches, he probes
he concocts potions 
and postulates,
promises and proofs
but never finds
the simplest truth
of the existence
of a chemistry
to make him young again.

He squanders his years
searching for the cause
of his years—
a combination of elements
solutions and thoughts
but never a reason for hope.

In a mortar and pestle
he mixes his faith
proteins and acids
compounded with schemes
that would lead him nowhere.

He searches for nothing
absolutely nothing
that would make him be
as he was
before the moment
of his death
when he becomes
what he always was—
nothing at all


Author’s Statement on Beauty

Having studied other cultures and other times, it is apparent that beauty is a matter of culture, context and states of mind, even of economics and politics. Merely consider the 20th Century in which works by Picasso, Stravinsky and Balanchine were seen as ugly, tasteless and vulgar, and Soviet architecture was preferred by many. We all must accept the fact that others see through very different eyes and that there are beautiful truths very different from our own.


Neil Ellman, a poet from New Jersey, has published numerous poems, many of which are ekphrastic and written in response to works of modern art, in print and online journals, anthologies and chapbooks throughout the world. His most recent chapbook is Of Angels & Demons: The Art of Paul Klee as Poetry (Flutter Press, 2016)