Poems for Paul Klee

Paul Klee, The Chair-Animal, 1922

All Soul’s Picture

Walking the bazaars of Berlin, by outdoor Turkish fruit stands,

searching for a vaseful of black tulips, I shudder to see

Paul Klee in every obelisk. His hieroglyphics betray

a strong sense of sehnsucht, that is to say, a longing

for things unspeakable, for things from the world

of Mephistopheles, Don Giovanni, Falstaff, Nim.

Curry wurst stands in for politicians, and lamb döner

reeks like mothers gone insane from bitter breast milk.

Here each twittering spatz on a corroded power line

over Glogauerstrasse reminds me of Klee’s kinetic

tic, his ovule scribblings that ease a cat-like prowess

out of God, out of the least worm who slowly devours

the guts of a man entirely in a fortnight’s thunderstorm.

Ghost Chamber with the Tall Door

December 21, 1921. Steam heat soaks the rotten floorboards

of our cold-water flat, empty now of any sound, my wife asleep,

holiday musicians packing up cornets, French horns,

triangles, and tympani. Felix plays Jackstraws, deftly

pivots tools, touches the tip of a gardening hoe to a scythe,

swiveling it skyward and free from the pile of ivory saws.

Fritzi licks her paws of buttermilk, while I mix indigo

in a Kyoto paint pot. Vespers and church bells at six,

but I count two: snowflakes, huddled figures on a road,

just home from the sausage works. An image in my head

is embryonic: the lake at Winterthur, a dead child's tricycle.

I render it with double horizon, far from any Torrid Zone.

A man nearby cuts up the evening news, composes poems

with rational integers. Deep in Alpine ice packs, a frozen

princess, sleek-boned, fossil-haired, stirs as a breastbone

heaves, and as my frantic hatch-marks become a blizzard.

In the Heart's Center the Only Prayers Are Steps Receding

In the heart's center, the only prayers are steps receding

down a trodden path, where trash blows silly into traffic.

In the light of a dying sun, capybara huddle in the dusk:

in a child's eyes, a condor swallows up the vault of sky.

Down Prague's alley-ways, spilled milk soaks into gold.

In a brush fire, the word of Baal is spread like infamy.

In the dark tulle of my lungs, a blood clot muscles ardor.

In the rush of tornado wind, a blue heron spears a trout.

In the Cave of Covadongo, bats lick lice from granite walls.

African violets and oak galls bespeck the gardens of Ur.

In Norman tombs, names are written in pink porphyry.

A North Sea fiord gives up two salt-blistered fishermen:

the life-line of my palm points towards Puka Puka Ridge.

In the sorrow of sleep, you, sleeper, wake to growling bears.

The Chair-Animal

I was a man who played accordion with one black glove,

or the salamander sky, a chestnut beer garden

with linden trees in bloom. I was Barguest, hound

in the ghost subway stop by Potsdamer Platz.

I was a Bohemian lad who gathered deadly amanita,

the white-winged crow who tried to walk the earth,

the Autobahn, in search of a hallowed, antiseptic life,

worship of green animals in the shadow of a jurist.

A forty-year old’s crisis: to love the Baroque or not.

I was the wolf of Lvov, the hen-pecked nightingale,

a golden stag, the ostrich of Hibernia, a fragrant plum,

an amber tankard of Austrian beer, the Golem's sigh.

I ran circles around my enemies: I was Brahms' lullaby,

sounding across an avalanche of babies about to be born.


The piano music on the gramophone is Schubert,

a set of laments just twenty years too late.

A tenor tells the story of an errant soul

who breaks across the ice, searching to kiss

the frozen ground, to call up the molten center

of the planet. In an attic room, Robbie and I

are seven and eight years old, we stay up way past

tired old Mrs. Hamilton's bedtime, sucking

popcorn and watching as Dracula drains a corpse.

Love burns deep inside us, but we are only loyal

after midnight. Dawn comes and we each eat

our OK cereal alone, daring to utter no words

of our secret midnight pact. With a jack-knife,

we'd pared our fingertips and pledged allegiance

till the end. But it had come too soon--his house

caught fire, his old mother was packed away,

and all of our whispered words were lost in sleep--

in a week my dog was dead, buried beneath the willow.

In Palermo

Maundy Thursday. I sit in the sun of Piazza Sett'Angeli,

as a Norway rat shunts across my warming Jesuit legs,

leaving a thin trail of spittle and wolf-trap spider web.

I tremble at the sound of rain: a girl and Afghan hound

are running with a hoop. The cathedral spews out monks,

Cappuccini, their dried skulls reliquaries for the few who

come to see the Holy Grail, but soon enough they see

how the poor out back behind the rectory have stricken

hard the heart of Jesus. Sludge drains from gutter pipes

to the Aegean. Tiznit drumbeats welcome the setting sun.

I wait for the rat, as he returns from his early dinner run,

sniffing his tracks as he vaults, lickety-split, across my lap.

Travel Bird

Two million Poles in cars are on their way to Rome,

to reclaim and carry John Paul's quickened heart to Krakow.

I'm tickled to see a painter try not to disturb three

girls bathing in a fountain pool. A giant-green arrow

points to the house of swallows, and I veer inward.

I see a train of beaming reddish acolytes with chalices,

dressed in white, trotting a clockwise promenade

in Vatican City. Rose blossoms blow across the square

like shadow puppets on a railroad station's dome.

My bee tattoo is burning--I've never seen the Pope

so close before my eyes--sonnets and sonatas jumble

out of me as I hemorrhage Babylon, all of an instant,

the dark mercury inside me quickly jellied into song.

Mural from the Temple of Longing

My goal was a home made out of charnel wood--

with doors to the Egyptian underworld unbarred.

I blazed orisons and blasphemies--a resurgence

of dark matter, brown fog, cirrus and cumulous

clouds blotting out the fox-fire moon. Bitter

green gall--I'm Klee, so lonely, but giggling,

breathing shallowly, over the graves of men,

tip-toeing across the river Tiber, in search

of Nina Auchinchloss, the sprite I slept with

in a public garden when I was twenty-one.

A roadside sign in Czech says Z M R Z L I N A,

which translated means gelati, but I was already

poised to be born a garfish in this flooding river.

The Pathos of Fertility

The museum of dogs was closing; outside a hawk limped

through red samphire. In Journey to the Center of the Earth,

Verne writes " so excellent a guide was worthy Hans,"

he who was the father-in-law I never knew, his watch

on my hip, ticking away the hours, as the professor

tried to scale the giant mushrooms, and changelings

of a burning cloud that I tried to jot notes down on

as figures of the mind--my heart was throttled by fatigue

and overcast by wish hounds and a sky that scoured

the undulating hills. I slept in a castle made from bread,

dreaming of my favorite, funny man, Carl Valentine, dead.

Strawberry Tries to Sleep

Half-Siamese, half-asleep, my cat's pact is with Sekhmet,

Ra's punisher of men and women who run wild.

We're in the garden: in the fire-green globes her eyes

reflect you don't see me, nor any wandering apes

from Central Asia, but rather Cleopatra-- wise,

ruby-crowned, aroused, upon a dais or barque

along the Nile, stylus in her willowy fingers,

all the while bent on the art of writing: chits

for Assyrian flax, date palm oil and henna.

I put down my pen when Strawberry stares

in my direction, her mouth agape to form a syllable

of lust-- papyrus, coffin text, rock-cut tomb

and birth house disappear, her irises suddenly

blazoning to black, fixated on a bird, the god is gone.