Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kit Kelen - ekphrastic - Guernica


I was in a room full of children
we were together in a great presence
how could they know?
what's ash to them?

it wasn't the town … or the war
it wasn't even the man painting
or the idea in his head
(though we could all see him
though we knew his love)

the name is a truth in itself
not forgetting is deciding a self
it's deciding to be

the children – how could they know
this black milk
or a hand grows thorns?

they would not recognise
breasts mechanically contrived

how can children know
a certain horse is the past of our terror
that this sun is only a lightbulb
has to be thought up of a morning?

there is no daylight here
the sword is broken or the hand
that bull we are with
face almost to face...

confusions, as in the moment we've come to
is there a right reading?
right way up?

democracy had to be thought of
it has to be made every day
and again
and together

I was in a room full of children
the teacher told imagination
she was all arms
fingers were pointing

it was their language
the town has another
I am in my own
I'm with you

the painting is a manner of speaking

the town is a people
death's from the air
the line makes the map
and the map is re-made
where there's no colour
there's line and there's shade

the bird becomes its scream
hands are past the sky

even children can see
it's only statues lie broken in dust
they're the unburied

the past is with us here and again
even a little is work to remember
listen for what the teacher will say

the name of the place is a truth in itself
not forgetting is deciding a self
it's deciding to be

where drips of paint have come still
there was hope then
before it was dry
the world might have woken

how little we survivors can tell
we have to remember why the fallen fell
for some events there's this language past words
there is no daylight here

democracy had to be thought of
it has to be made every day
and again
and together

the painting is a flag
is a fridge magnet, postcard
carry this sacred thing in your head

a banner is a tear
coiffure free flown

the moment standing
is imagination

it's we who do the staring
I from my past
those children seem all future to me

can we listen now? do we attend?
the only anchoring is flesh

bones shallow
shall we leave them above ground?
the only colour is ash

imagination's democracy
that's what fascism kills
kills the colour

the teacher is trying to tell

the work is a great expulsion of breath
the colour of the work is ash
last breath is what a ghost is

it's with your eyes you'll hear them now
be with them in beyond of words

a name is not a painting
do I even conjure an up?
how is it this work of hands means for me?
and for the first time for these children?

the name of the place is a truth in itself
not forgetting is deciding a self
it's deciding to be

how right it is to say our shame
inherited of those never there
who wouldn't speak the language
would didn't come when called

they were statues
just a few moments later
death knocked at their door

but here was one moment
the world could have stopped
were we then? ask where are we now

witness hands of the dead
in this heart darkening
the decades well and spill
like chocolate
in the dictator's cup
and the decades to follow he had

the hanged and the shot
of the centuries mourn us
the face disfigured
under the boot
is sorry for us still

and this was a town
these were the people
it's for the children
this truth is shown
in the form of these statues
in ash
left to this wall
and portable still

it's for them
we remember now

after the moment's silence
surely then we'll know to speak 



  1. Ekphrasis and personae too. Really evokes the painting. I particularly like the final couplet.

  2. YES! As Magdalena said, the two final lines are even greater than the rest of the poem. It gives the Greek etymology, and it gives dignity to the word “ekphrastis”, it points out the momentum and aim of writing such a poem: it has to lead to speaking out loud. I also love the way you confront the experience of today children looking at the painting, it gives another perspective, importance and depth to our “duty” to tell and pass on to the young generation what happened in the past in order that they won’t want to let it happen again …

  3. Insider empath this one done with horror scoped and pitched to and from children and The giant digging love out from shell holes to light.
    Great piece Kit.