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.
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.
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.
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.