The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 16 no. 1


Philip Gross

Paul Klee: the late style



Came to painting on burlap, not for lack of fine paper or canvas.

See the effort of scraping the paint across that surface. Almost pain.

And the stuttering, crude and approximate edge.

His own skin drying: scleroderma. Paint on that.


The opposite of watercolor,
where juice and gravity take us

with ideas of their own.

But sackcloth ... Paint that dries
before it’s left the palette.

That has to be dragged, already crusted.

There could be despair in this. Or
freedom, knowing that already

we’re too late.


The kettle drummer

he made almost nothing
but his drum.

Like the broadcasts hammering
the airwaves, nightly,
into the shape of a war.

Like waking in the darkness,

your heart thumping, but no
other edge to your body,
lost sensation of its borders

— just this, dull percussions
surging. In, out, sure as the tide.

If a tide could be dry.


If you can’t help but hear the drumming,

if there’s nowhere (even with the Alps
between you) at a far enough remove

then (as your canvases are hung

skewed— decadent! —fenced round
— degenerate! —with crude graffiti,

as your own skin tightens

on the bonecage) be
the bold bald mark on what

you can lay hands on, be

the drum skin
beating till it rips.


And beating, and not beaten, even then.