Neil Ellman

The follow poems are part of an ekphrastic sequence written in response to a painting in the Elegy to the Spanish Republic series by Robert Motherwell.

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 35

Bombs whistled bloody black
as they fell
three at a time

a funeral dirge
where nothing would ever grow
or sound the same

charred earth—

so much for resurrection
in a requiem
of blackened flesh.

First published in Deep Tissue Magazine

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 54


Black clouds clenched
impenetrable smoke
day to night
night to feverish pitch
of screeching birds
invisible crows
feeding in the dark
the gas-bloated carcasses
of horses and heroes
lying in the road
cry defeat.


Here lies the soul
birds on the wing
freedom of butterflies
lost in retreat—
hear them in their silence
sing defeat.

First published in Cognates: Art and Poetry, Kind of a Hurricane Press

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 70

Death and dying
(almost the same)
hear the cannons fire
planes dive
black-metal peregrines
the night insinuates
its own account—
save the darkness for me
eclipse of the moon
in the morning

First published in Abstractions: From Paint to Poetry, The Camel Saloon Book on Blog

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, 108

When the next bomb falls
to wake me from my sleep
in the half-dug trenches
of my dreams

it will come as surely
as the last
with the whining cry
of a hunting bird

shrapnel shells like rain
upon the fractured earth
filled with hollow men
asleep, in dread

I count the days and nights
by bursts of light
minutes by the dead
certain that next is mine

If only I could fly.

In war, only the birds
have wings.

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 110, Easter Day

First, the silence of grass
green scent of peace
a willowing breeze
becoming wind, kettling buzzards
waiting for the not-quite dead
to die, only always boys
with pitchforks and bayonets
black smoke, trigger-cocked arms
embracing shapeless dreams

again, as always
soaring on vulturous wings
they come, shedding bombs
feather-barbs and -vanes
fracturing space
splitting air with steel

finally, again
the wind through silent grass
littered with metal graves grown over
you who are neither living nor dead
beginning nor end
for you no epitaphs.

First published in Bone Orchard Poetry

Elegy to the Spanish Republic #172 (with Blood)

Here it ends.

Hear the silent chorus
of the butterflies.

Here the last retreat
the blackened wings
of peregrines and owls.

Here the grass plowed under
by rows of men
and armaments

Here the groan of riven earth
beneath their feet
spilled blood.

Here wind through bone-dry plains
in the distance hear the rain.

Here los sacerdotes
cross themselves
before the alter of the night.

Here rests tomorrow
in its early grave.

Abandonad toda esperanza
vosotros que habels
entrado aqui.

Neil Ellman © 2013