Neil Ellman – Three Ekphrastic Poems

Paul Klee, Before the Blitz, 1923, gouache

Paul Klee, Before the Blitz, 1923, gouache


Before the Blitz

(after the watercolor by Paul Klee)

There was a calm before the blitz
no wind the leaves barely moved
buzzards circled as they always had
making a zig-zag calligraphy spelling peace
as children played the way they had always had
no tomorrow now their only day
that ever was or mattered in their lives.

That day like any other then
the streets were crowded
with pedestrians and prams
and pigeons cooed under an indifferent sun
while the speakers in the park
debated poetry and politics
mimes white-faced and speechless
pushed against invisible walls.

By the river flowing on
as it always had
past castles wooden piers
sails filled with songs of hope
the majesty of clipper ships

And then the rain of a sudden storm
no umbrella could ever stay
the plague of locusts from the east
malignant insects on electric wings
as the children all of us ran and hid
eyes closed not to see
in the darkness of the tunnels and cellars
carved from fear for some other day
that it was thought would never come.


Paul Klee, Ancient Warrior, 1929, watercolor and charcoal on paper on card

Paul Klee, Ancient Warrior, 1929, watercolor and charcoal on paper on card


Ancient Warrior

(oil and watercolor by Paul Klee)

Much as it is today the ancient warrior
from Rome, China and the British Isles
from Africa and the Mayan villages
has no fear of death.

If die he must, he must for god
country a loaf of bread,
and pint of bear.

He will meet his maker
with 72 virgins at his side
or make a heaven of his own beliefs.

It’s killed or be killed no difference
for his end in victory or defeat.

It’s sooner or later without regard
it might as well be now
when there isn’t much to lose—
“Today” like any other
“is a good day to die.”


Roberto Matta Echaurren, Violent Indéfinissable, 1950

Roberto Matta Echaurren, Violent Indéfinissable, 1950


Violent Indéfinissable

(after the painting by Roberto Matta Echaurren)

Not to speak of the violence of the trees
struggling for their sovereignty in soil
and the language that separates
themselves from common grass

is to ignore the simple truth
that blood has been shed for less
in our nature and theirs
in the constant carnage of our worlds.
Violence is violence no matter how defined
the trees by natural selection
are the conquers of their wood
as much as we by sword and armaments
are the masters of ours.

Such is the nature of nature
brutal, severe and coarse
the savage in all of us
whether trees or bees or men.


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)


(Featured Image: Paul Klee,  Flowers in the Night, 1930)