The Klee Suite

Paul Klee has held a special interest for me for years, and his paintings represent a significant portion of my sonnet sequence, "My Human Disguise."

My book of the first 200 of these sonnets is now available for purchase. Click here:
My Human Disguise.

Nearly Hit (Paul Klee), Sonnet #425

My brain is a stairway to the arrow,
The one and ineluctable pointer
That flies true as any truth can and strikes
Like the rusted tine of an old harrow.
The arrow’s in an attic I enter
With telescope eyes seeking, like a shrike’s,
What I left here for later long ago.
The progress of the unfletched shaft is slow,
Has yet to pierce the humor of my eye.
Seen darkly, dust-mote-shaded, almost shy,
It moves, like Zeno, only half-way here,
Then half more, hardly trying to arrive.
It’s time I see I have nothing to fear.
It cannot pierce me while I’m still alive.

Bird Garden (Paul Klee), Sonnet #415

Why does the bird sing before the sunrise?
What is he saying when no bird responds?
Minutes later another species cries
As if to himself, then a third voice sounds.
Does the cardinal talk to the catbird?
That hardly seems likely. Though a starling
Will nag a red-tailed hawk, that’s not singing. 
Just the nuthatch answers a nuthatched word.
But it’s that first bird’s first note and why then,
Which breaks the dark silence like a siren,
I question. Does the robin hope to steal
The pre-dawn’s power and make himself real,
Or does he fear the sun will never rise
Unless his tunes ruin the light’s surprise?

The Virtue Wagon (Paul Klee), Sonnet #412 

The wagon was a hit in the Virtue Parade.
Men and women (we couldn’t tell apart) costumed
In various stages of address and undress,
Depicted what we all lust for and none evade —
The self-righteousness that cannot be self-consumed.
The wagon dragged an anchor; why?, we couldn’t guess.
We marveled how the actors laughed but couldn’t smile,
Flinging candied hearts to the crowd mile after mile.
They tasted sweet and dour like sugary chalk
And gave no joy to boy or girl of true virtue
(Each of us knew ourselves to be one of those few).
The wagon was now full of nudes — look at us gawk!
Underthings, pants, and dresses came showering down.
A bald man in the crowd donned a harlequin’s crown.

Actor’s Mask (Klee), Sonnet #400

Hiieee! Hiieeea! Hi! Hiiee! Hi! Hi!
Look closely, now. I am cellophane thin,
Imbued by hand with the hues of a sigh
And the pentimento of ancient sin.
I hide my eyes with a mendacious squint
And my thoughts with an enigmatic grin.
My hair and skin share a fiery tint.
I am both angelic and indecent.
Gently I cling to any actor’s face,
But the visages I never erase.
On stage, our thespians deliver speech
After speech and reveal what?, you will ask.
All actors pour out their souls, each to each,
But all for nothing. I can’t mask a mask.

Eros (Paul Klee), Sonnet #395

The elemental urges are equal
To triangle, pyramid and diamond,
Constructs stacked neatly, an inverted wall,
Sterile, without a fructifying bond.
There can be love and sex without eros,
The wall of urges dashed with blunt arrows.
The source of the erotic is mental,
As dreams remind us with fleshless chaos,
And barred owls hoot in their ecstatic throes.
We decide love will be wild or gentle.
The eros of the imaginary
Turns lust into love, lovers to quarry.
Only the lovers’ minds can satisfy
By overwhelming the orgasmic lie.

On the Edge (Klee), Sonnet #381

Look now, it’s time to stop screwing around.
A crow’s cracked nails clawing the frozen ground,
His ceaseless caw cacking a frozen sound,
Writing sonnets is no merry-go-round.
Our faces seek us again and again,
But there’s nothing but the sun to explain —
No sun, no poem, no rose, no weather vane.
Forget the sun you can’t see for the rain!
Theorems are no more valid than a list.
A rhyme is a lot like a broken wrist —
Both need to knit up if you want a fist. 
Sonnets are lists of theorems with no gist.
So I think of Paul Klee as my brother.
He draws not one right thing, but another.

Carpet of Memory (Klee), Sonnet #369

No one has a first memory, not one.
We can so designate any we choose,
The dimmest, the least associative,
A parent’s kiss or a promise undone,
The smell of mother’s milk, a game we lose,
But not that first moment we know we live.
For then they propagate like dry grasses
In a desert, patches of green, some sweet,
Some blown, or desiccated cactuses —
All ungraspable, too desired, too fleet.
I choose my first — not a moment, a dream:
“Wendy” and I are threatened by an ape.
She wears a witch’s hat and I a cape.
Then all fades away in a moon’s blank beam.

Colorful Lightning (Klee), Sonnet #310

The master can show the moon in a storm
If he chooses to -- the answer is why?
Too simple to think for the sake of form,
The willful undermining of the norm.
It's his, this stylus-petted, stepped-down sky.
There's not one cloud. The scarred night air is dry.
Standing outside his miniatures, we stare
At what we can't be sure he meant to share.
One summer, I stood on a factory roof
And watched heat lighting crack the night apart.
The moon penetrated the hazy air
Just once, a blind man, stupid and aloof,
Hardly a subject for a work of art.
The whistle blew and I went down the stairs.

Memory of a Bird (Klee), Sonnet #301

A bird's memory is the memory
Of the bird. We share the same history.
The still bittern stays the marsh grasses
I saw as grass until he flew away.
The starling murmuration amasses
Like ink perturbed in oil in a glass,
Until a red tail hawk blots out a stray.
The pileated woodpecker, the day
I stood in the river and watched him rip
Through a limb, saw nothing below my hip.
I wasn't man to him, and no concern,
Just one more thing he saw not to unlearn.
I feed the birds so they'll remember me,
Returning them my fading memory.

Fateful Hour at Quarter to Twelve (Klee), Sonnet #289

The waxing quarter moon, a pendulum,
Swings from eleven ten to forty-six,
Its math always slightly wrong in sum,
Its path a leaning gravity can't fix.
We stand beneath the clock-faced obelisk
And with tiny leaps try to grasp the disc.
I knew a witch once who wore sunglasses
When the hour's two hands approached midnight.
She said it had nothing to do with light,
But the way the dark turned to molasses.
She feared nothing more than the coming day,
Except its damn'd tendency to stay.
We're sleeping now with no time to time out,
Or a moon to wane, or a dream to doubt.

The Man Of Confusion (Klee), Sonnet #264 

There's a never in every idea.
The cleft globe glows like a paper lantern
With illuminations we can't unlearn.
Some lightnings will stop at the cornea,
Disappear when we unthinkingly blink.
Oh, that man of confusion! He can think!
Crunch his pumpkin seeds like a chickadee
And drive his beak into the locust tree,
Taking his rightful place among the thorns.
He thinks sadness is wise but never mourns
A death in case it might have been his own.
He cuts off his hand to preserve the bone.
There is an idea in every never,
He thinks. I am more than never clever.

Forest Witches (Klee), Sonnet #248

Walking in off the trout stream in total darkness,
I feel them crowding in, dodging my flashlight beam.
That I returned all I caught to the water seems
Propitiatory, cools the blood of the succubus.
I remember Wendy, the neighborhood biter
(Until after biting me her mother bit her).
My first remembered dream, she and her chimpanzees
Trapped me beneath our house, and force-fed me cheeses.
Then the little witch in pointy hat and black cape
Ran screaming up a tree chased by her largest ape.
The flashlight fails and I see nothing, moon or stars.
Even the water is between me and my car.
One of them whispers, "The river is deadly deep.
Don't be a fool. We'll stay right here. Lie down and sleep."

With The Eagle (Klee), Sonnet #241

He can be only the smallest part of our lives.
Over the years I've watched him not even a day.
In spring, circling a pond near leafless woods, he dives
And, skimming the water, dips his talons -- his prey,
A small bass. He lands on a dead tree and devours
All in seconds. Motionless, he'll rest there for hours.
When the trees leaf out he is much harder to see.
A nest, big as a pram, disappears, and his mate,
Whom he uxoriously trades nesting duty,
Will fly off to hunt for herself what he just ate.
The eagle sees me more clearly than I see him.
He doesn't care for me, so I remain a dim
Apparition he never completely ignores,
From caution, a mystery he never explores. 

Equals Infinity (Klee), Sonnet #212

Nothing equals infinity,
And that, yes, and that, all that crap,
Just a damned ambiguity
And metaphysical trap.

Infinite the galaxies.
Infinite the grains of sand.
Infinite the gaseous seas.
Infinity we understand.

Nothing we can't contemplate,
Because nothing has no equal.
There's no infinity so great
Or timeless, nor a thing so small,

Except, my eye on a migrating bird
At the feeder, there, equally absurd.


I wrote an another ekphrastic poem on this 
painting years ago.

Equals Infinity

The infinity pool is unbounded
of course and of course

expression itself in the double
description of its single point,

the fisherman’s wet net flung
to catch irregularities of the sea—

our Aegean has never been emptier!
The gold light bends the gold wave

on the tear beading on the lash
where a pencil has left its gash.

We cannot look too closely
at anything (that can’t look back),

without understanding to death
matter not worth knowing or love

or faded images resolved into
a moiré of inconsequence.

We confront the one artist,
questioning his portraiture—

all these faces deftly drawn
by an artist drawing himself.

Physiognomical Lightning (Klee), Sonnet #203

I met a man with lightning in his eyes,
A jagged scar on his nose and forehead,
Old acne pits on his fat cheeks the size
And color of old pennies, and he said,
"My name is Resentment; Sir God to you.
Do not speak or presume to ask questions.
I've something to say, though I'm no guru:
The time has come, the next second beckons."
He paused and a light split open his brow.
"Happens all the time," he said, "Do not bow.
I'm not that kind. A lesser deity,
I want neither piety or pity."
His face mended with a smile, then he left,
Leaving me with a forehead hot and cleft.

Wall Painting From The Temple Of Longing, Sonnet #181

A full moon and a gibbous moon in the dawn sky
Shiver like arrowheads that just struck the bull's-eye.
The stars show us everything since the beginning,
Until we close our eyes and discover nothing.
We ask "Is that all?" The given answer is "Why?"
To appease us, the gods have granted us longing,
Desire for what we can't have, see, or know,
Since the future, like a broken frame of stained glass,
Is all that's left of all the moments we let pass,
And sheds upon the now only a splintered glow.
Some say time's arrow is just consciousness at play,
That duration flies as swiftly in reverse,
Mending all but the present with no delay.
Try reading this poem, again, from this last verse.

 Departure of the Ghost, Sonnet #134

Ghosts are the human form of angels and devils.
Depicted as remnants of flesh, or foggy wisps,
They're barred alike from prayers, embrace, and revels.
They're cursed with loneliness and lacerated wrists.
It's said pain lingers, unresolved -- hence their visits.
If devils and angels are the minions of God,
Maybe ghosts are legions we send to the same plain
Of battle, to wander, Cain in the land of Nod,
Between both armies, to prove we've not lived in vain,
If we could but convince them their war is insane.
When they appear before men their message is clear.
Silent and staring, they accuse, or plead, or frown,
And when we try to speak to them, they disappear.
The only ghost I will believe in is my own.

Carnival of the Mountains, Sonnet #131

The pale, blind lady with the veiny cheeks
Keeps her apples from the reach of the boy
Who's sporting a blue man's grinning death mask.
A fire-breasted chicken watches for geeks,
Extrudes an egg here and there, a decoy.
No head-biter shies from his sanguinary task.
We are in the green mountains where the air
Is green as moss and moss is black as tar.
Clouds droop between the peaks like suckled breasts
And every home is home to nameless beasts.
The Carnival King is a mechanical man,
With lightning brains and an eye for a hand.
The revelers kill him with a handful of sand,
And dump the apples into his belly trash can. 

Ad Parnassum, Sonnet #98

Though there's no such thing, a perfected fate
Would lie in details, not some pinnacle.
Our occluded sun irradiates
Each imagined fleck and bright circle
Scarcely noticed in the mounting moments
Among our numberless joys and torments.
If we fail to see the thread in the weave,
The speck of blue gold in a lover's eye,
Look closer and ignore all reasons why.
It's more important to see than believe.
Don't wait, for in the accumulation
And remembrance of every colors' rhyme,
Each patterned and cascading emotion,
There is a pyramid worthy to climb.

Dream City, Sonnet #97

I've lived in nine cities, but dream of only five.
Perhaps where I lived as a child were all dreamed out
In anxious ecstasies, like a bee's in its hive.
I've remapped the five over the years with new routes
Through collapsed avenues to ruined homes
And maze-like schools, to workplaces with all doors locked,
Churches painted green inside and out, and bedrooms
Where the rain leaks through cracks that won't be caulked.
I often dream the same city night after night,
Which then fades for a time from hypnogogic blight.
I run and walk and crawl these streets, and sometimes fly,
So often cityscape replaces memory,
And new rooftops erase the blackboard of the sky.
At least the me who lives these dreams is always me.

Fish Magic, Sonnet #81

Is the sky to fish what the celestial is to men?
Do their eyes, being lidless, see more clearly
The dimming when moon eclipses the sun?
Do they wish as they die to swim above the sea?
Bonefish, flounder, barracuda, and drum,
Chaunt spells and curses from within a cauldron,
To tauten the cord and raise the draped muslin
Unveiling the face of the ancient clock tower,
While a three-eyed girl grabs at potted flowers,
And in a corner a boy in a dunce cap cowers.
The gods send down chum and baited hooks,
Dangling constellations and spiral galaxies,
Daring us to hope, to aspire, daring us to look
Past transparent and unfathomable seas.

Container for Stars, Sonnet #75

We thought, when we were the heart of the universe,
The constellations accumulate the divine.
We chanted as we watched the gods slowly disperse,
Replaced by single stars and Albert Einstein.
A star can fall. There's too much of velocity,
Distance, and duration in our current science,
Because there's no such thing as specificity.
Even if we could fly a billion light years hence,
What we want to see would be just as far away.
We might find a planet where men would want to stay.
Life could be altered. The sky would remain the same,
New constellations we'd have to give new names.
The discovered universe is not what we sought.
The only container of the stars is a thought.

In The Magic Mirror, Sonnet #65

The wan shock, not that rare, when the face
Is strange to us, the look of a mirror race,
Lasts only a moment and then dissolves;
Not memory, but confusion soon resolves.
We know the mask of lips and framing hair,
The skin stretched tight from ear to ear.
What startles is that persistent stare
We cannot blink away, but do not fear.
We feel foolish and fooled when it's over,
Both slightly empty and totally alone,
As though the soul has flown its cover,
Uncertain it will ever find another one.
Even that passes. We're ourselves again.
A mirror is mere glass with silver stain.

Sunset, Sonnet #61

The day has taken a billion ages to die.
No more than mathematical points, infinite
In any space defined or without compass,
We, our thoughts, motes in a god's eye,
God's tearful eye, are not (at least) indefinite.
We are both dark energy and dark mass.
Something beyond the sun points to us.
A light beyond any spectrum we know,
Like a thought, but even more like a reason,
An unimaginable generator of purposes,
Flies at us, at our minds, not like an arrow,
To pierce, but with a kiss's intent, a frisson.
It takes only a day for all our suns to set.
Sadly, that light is what we'll least regret.

Cat and Bird, Sonnet #47

I am a person. Look into my eyes.
I've a heart-shaped nose and whiskers
With which I whisk away the flies.
I had a mom, but never licked her.
This cat's tattoo is a damned bird.
Between naps, the atavistic urges
Burst from my brain like a cuckoo.
I'll chase anything feathered or furred
Until my unsated sleepiness surges
Or there's nothing left to pursue.
My owner's son pets me, feeds me.
That I need him and he needs me
Is a lie I kindly perpetuate,
Especially after what I just ate.



The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (Hokusai), and Sinbad the Sailor, Sonnet #23

There is nothing to fear in these cartoons.
A wave poised forever and never crashing.
Red ink dripping from a crooked harpoon.
Each a vision unreal, a pictorial fashion.
Then why so much improbable danger,
The depiction of moments of great crisis
In a style so unlike the camera's iris --
To make what we'll never know even stranger?
The artists have painted man against the elements
Or mythological beasts, both mere figments
Of extreme but fake, unnatural commotion,
Riots of color to create a chaos of emotion.
I have killed many such monsters of the deep,
And ridden up and over fatal crests asleep.

The Mocker Mocked, Sonnet #11

Upon three lines of argument
I’ll construct an actor’s mask
To say what is, not what is meant,
Should a reflective audience ask.
First, “Nipples make the thumb
Feel glad about its thumbing task.”
Second, “The tongue cannot outdrum
The quarrel fought between the ears.”
Last, “Our bodies eventually come
To satisfy our deepest fears.”
Now, dear friends, with your consent,
I’ll put this on. Hm, it appears
They consider my grin indecent.
I’m booed when I expected cheers!

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