David Koehn



Democracy with its semi-civilization sincerely cherishes junk. The artist's power should be spiritual. But the power of the majority is material. When these worlds meet occasionally, it is pure coincidence.

—Paul Klee


Turn the crank. In 1879, two bare knuckled boxers fought the longest championship fight ever recorded. 136 rounds. Nine months later Paul Klee was born. While Klee is in utero, FW Woolworth opens his first store, which fails almost immediately. The intense light! "One eye sees, the other feels," he said. The first railroad opens in Hawaii. In Menlo Park, New Jersey, Tom Edison flicks on his incandescent lamp for the first time just as Klee crowns between his mothers legs. Wack. Churches of the Madonna. John Brahms completes the printing of Tragic Overture just seconds later.

Trembling violin,
Tunisian red, box, ripe date,
Ostinato sun.


Turn the crank. In 1922, Twittering Machine debuts. Canvas scavenged from downed warplanes for mount, the secondary support inscribed with date, catalog number, and title. Neils Bohr awarded the Nobel prize, for "his services in the investigation of atoms and radiation emanating from them." Steely gouache, gold foil: "On a misty autumn morning, I spread the large, humid sheets of ingres paper out on the gravel in the garden..." Onto filled bristol first, then finished. The British mandate of Palestine begins. Oh, what Wallace Stevens said.

Cockles, draws, wheat starch
Paste, foxing stomas, mat burn,
Sun seeped through water.


Turn. 1940, the Nazis forbid Polish Jews to travel on trains. Klee is dying, Goering seizes Dutch horses, cars, buses and ships. Joe Louis defends his heavyweight boxing title 4 times in one year in a sparse 31 total rounds. As he takes out Atruro Godoy in his third defense, Klee dies. Bruce Lee is born. Richard Pryor is born. Frank Zappa is born. Pele is born. Four months later, four kids follow their dog into a hole in Lascaux, France. They discover four 17,000 year old drawings. Klee? Scleroderma got 'em.

Birdsong parch, poop shoot.
Pick up, drop, note. Ink gears, dew
On papyrus sun.


Turn, 64 years, 43, after the debut of Twittering Machine a choreographer writes a piece for ten dancers lit by nine projectors based on six paintings, to Gunther Schuller's Seven Studies on themes of Paul Klee. Madonna's La Isla Bonita Debuts.

Turn, 1879 Einstein was born. Klee is a gifted violinist who chooses to pursue fine art. In 1955 Wallace Stevens, vice president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company and a Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry that year, died in St. Francis Hospital. Four ways of listening to four birds on a crank. Skin thicker than canvas, stiffer than Bristol. Scleroderma? Caused by stress. The bird fused to its wire.

Walking line sings wire.
Late evening, sunset box,
Four thin birds over fire.



This one rushing to the hospital like a giraffe.

This one to put out the fire of embers older than the known universe.

This one constructed of levers and pulleys enabling you to pull the tramp steamer out of the river all by yourself.

This one to calculate the grains of sand it takes to fill the universe.

This one to ascend the towers of Syracuse and save Archimedes from his mistimed final words and the tip of the angry spear.

This one to arrogate the feather for the 12th century prayer supplanted by a monk recycling the pages by a scraping and a wash to be turned into a prayer book.

This one for the palimpsest of math under invocation.

This one for life’s jaws chewing the nib of Red Man tobacco plugged in a cheek on a distant river fishing with a distant friend, my grandfather.

This one to remove the manuscript from the library.

This one to call my mother the day the plane crashed into her office at the Pentagon.

This one to microfiche the New York Times article about The Method discovered by a Greek theologian.

This one for a pilot’s license.

This one for unbinding the Archimedes palimpsest and discovering the lines in the binding.

This one for words recurring in an eye for the first time.

This one for blueprints of buildings.

This one for diagrams of thinking.

This one for the missing lines on the page discussing the rules for dealing with infinity reappearing.

This one for what the television could have become.

This one to weigh the curved shape of bodies: sphere and cone equal in volume to cylinder.

This one for the man dressed in black rushing into an exploding room.

This one to carry a kidney to Tuscaloosa for a father of three as if a part of each of us has always belonged to other people.


ON THE TWITTERING MACHINE: Arthur Sze was discussing the ekphrasic poems of Mary Jo Bang at a small summer class in Napa Valley. He questioned the how and the why of poems about art. In a similar discussion Sze discussed the Haibun form, its roots being with Basho and other Japanese poets. The Haibun begins with a prose section about one's journey and ends with a Haiku that crystallizes the prose passage preceding it. In my poem "The Twittering Machine" I consciously set out to write an ekphrasic Haibun where the prose was about a passage, a journey. This passage would be through time and time's synchronicities as they apply to the artist Paul Klee and my response to his work. The haiku that follows the prose is an attempt to include the texture of canvas, the gestural and expressive qualities I feel, and the physical processes Klee used in articulating his painting The Twittering Machine. I wanted to subvert the Haibun, yet stick strictly to its form...all the while trying to honor Klee and his art work. Oh yeah, I also wanted to write a good poem.

ON RESCUE VEHICLES: The litany stands as the loosest of possible poetic forms...and one of, if not the most, familiar forms. From the Bible to Leaves of Grass, the litany does work that few forms can. The aspect of litanies that most appeal to me is their quality of invocation. I like the sense that through the force of the passion in the drive of the poem, that line after line, the litany is going to call forth something in more detail than what was there just before. It is not a complicated trope...a grocery list gradually invokes a kitchen or a supermarket. A list of alcoholic drinks invokes a bar or a restaurant. In RESCUE VEHICLES I try to evoke a set of ideas that invoke the fear and resultant relief that comes from fortune in the face of tragedy—the collision of ideas once seemingly lost to us forever with present day circumstance. When I found out my mother was not in her Pentagon office the day the plane hit—I felt relieved, I felt good. But how does one feel that way in the face of such devastation? One person dies, another person gets a kidney and lives. I can't reconcile this conflict. Where does art and imagination stand relative to this? I think about Archimedes all the time. How would the world have been different if we'd had his calculus the centuries before we later re-discovered it? What if the beauty of his mathematical theories hadn't been suppressed, how would the world be different? The poem starts with a comic "like" as a simile and ends with a wishful, if not otherwise disappointed, "as if."