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