Ekphrastic poetry is that which is inspired by visual images: paintings, photographs, graffiti, etc. Good poetry generally relies on strong images, so the two arts seem to me to go hand in hand. I often write in relation to a painting or another type of image. Here are a few poems in that category.
After Virginia Dehn
Single handprint on the wall
where so much has been erased.
In the breath of a whisper
a candle flickers.
The carpet’s Intricate patterns
a language beyond words, a history,
a genotype, generation of dreams,
one laid over the other, over the other.
O Kandahar, the woman who painted you
is gone, the man in the whitewashed house
is gone. My lanky son in goggles
that make him strange, a helmet
clamped over his thinning red hair,
why is he there--
in the whirlwind of your refusal?
The cloth on the wall is frayed.
Behind it a fretwork of messages.
Red dots, blue boxes, cuneiform.
What is history, Kandahar?
What is love? When will we remember
what it is to be human? In this
charged world of our own making,
how will we grow the right kind of skin?
after Edward Hopper
Instead of a flag
on the tall pole, a white sign
swings back and forth, Mobil gas
and Pegasus poised
to leap past this bright emptiness,
fly beyond this road edged with sand
back to the realm of his birth,
that place wondrous strange.
Anything could happen there.
In an instant a woman turns
into a tree, a gargoyle, a fly.
A young man buckles his sandals,
stuffs a blade in his satchel
and follows the hero road
to death or immortality.
Pegasus could fly off
past that huddle of trees
into a story. His wings are spread--
but something stops him.
It’s the man, his loneliness,
the mortality of his bald head,
the way he leans into
the bubble-headed gas pumps
as if they could save him.
Across the narrow road the trees
are dark and thick—they crowd
in close. The man retreats
to a small white hut, straightens
the candy, freshens the coffee,
waits for the next stranger
to arrive. He glances up,
watches the road darken.
Wheat Field with Crows
after Vincent van Gogh
From fields lush with wheat
they rise up, those old black
sorrows, crying out my name,
taking pleasure in it too. Like the stiff
straw men abandoned there,
coming unhinged, they flap
and stir the chaff to storms
of golden dust. What crooked rut
is this that wanders, a little green,
into the grain toward
the squawking of crows?
Even when I believe I’ve left
the world’s restless errands behind,
an agitation follows me.
In this incandescent world
the sky comes roiling closer,
bearing again its difficult night.
Optical Longings and Illusions
after Man Ray
Kinetic energy, write this down, Mr. Lewis said.
Chemical reactions. Zigzagging
through the corridors, I colored myself in.
The blackboard marked with chains
of letters, pluses and minuses clustering
around them. Circles, arrows. Longing
as loss of electrons. I saw constellations
missing their lucky stars, random lines
connecting emptiness to emptiness
across the dark night that had us surrounded.
Oh Mr. Lewis. Big ears and bow ties.
But there was something he knew--
dark matter. Chalk dust to me. My elemental
landscape was tending toward train tracks,
bridges suspended over air. Snow, melting.
Gravitational laws, he said. Changing forms.
Desk to desk, we passed back the mimeographs
with their purple ink. Inhaled their fumes
as if life alone was not enough to make us dizzy.
My best friend turned into a paper doll.
I watched her disappear. Solar flare.
Autumn in the Village
after Marc Chagall
Everyone here is made partly of sky
so the fiddler’s lover ascends
barefoot, reclining, breasts uncovered
when he thinks of her.
In her hand is a golden cup
and levitating, she holds it up
to be emptied and refilled
three thousand times
by the leaves of a peppercorn tree,
leaves of indigo, deep night sky
and green as hope.
She’ll float in its languor--
the dream will carry her, music
waft through her skin.
A white goat, belly fat with kids, returns.
Young man in a purple shirt
with his heart that murmurs like a stream,
with his hummingbird lips
says dreams never lie.
Some of them blossom into stars.
Crooked shutters on his house
hang open. Clouds, memories,
sparrows, float out and in.
Over the rooftops, a small moon rises
curved like the tail of the goat.
It too is a golden cup, swollen with music.
It’s autumn in the village
but here the leaves never fall.
RATTLE has a monthly ekphrastic challenge. They post a picture each month, and poets are invited to write something in response to it. Click here to see my poem "In the Museum of Cold Ideas," which won "Editor's Choice" for one of their postings.