Poetry by Neil Ellman *

Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing

(after the painting by Gerry Bergstein)

From Einstein’s mind

a universe

where nothing was

something is

mass squared and light

from energy

the why of it eludes

the patterns

on a plasma screen

the random collisions

of random particles

circling until they meet

at the last at last

as if they were something

rather than nothing—

perhaps a single mind

creates the universe

perhaps the universe

is nothing more than thought—




(after the painting by Shane Hope)

Improbably, ironically

the smallest of things

atoms kill

cosmic strings

form rope

execute their will

elemental particles and waves

decapitate, eviscerate

annihilate, eradicate

asphyxiate, electrocute

neutralize and sacrifice

is nature’s way

turning blood to threads

of lifeless space.


Creature of Clouds

(after the wire and metal sculpture by Richard Pousette-Dart)

From clouds

hard wire and steel

creatures ride the sky

as if they were machines

nebulous, unformed

then metal monsters

flashing dragon wings

a saintly face, then birds

then anarchy of cirrus threads

and thunderheads


to fading creatures of the clouds

* Each is an ekphrastic poem based on a work of modern art; and in each case, the title of the poem is also the title of the original image.

Poetry by Neil Ellman

Heavy Red

(after the painting by Wassily Kandinsky)

Every bubble in the universe

every line and arc

every wave

the sound of mourning

and the scent of birth

every color has its weight—

a molecule of red

contains the universe

the endless heaviness

of sleep.



(after the painting by Wassily Kandinsky)


Between anarchy and calm

a world.

Between the chatter of stars

and the shape of a syllable

a word.

Between meaning in a line

and the reason of a square

a doubt.

In perfect unison

the licks of a flame pretend

that they have souls.


Improvisation No. 27 (The Garden of Love)

(after the painting by Wassily Kandinsky)


Passion grows

in this improvised garden of love

in its tangle of arms and limbs

where the shape of a leaf

becomes the tongue

of my awakening

the spray of parting lips

my Eden

my spring

a yellow sun

and the scent of flesh.