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robert klein engler

Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago and New Orleans. He is the author of "American Shadow" as well as other books. RKleinEngler@aol.com



We roll through Mississippi.

Dry colors of clay and bony trees

barricade the fields. The stones

of one life are broken to make

a roadbed for the new.


Drizzle falls almost weightlessly

into the orange light of Greenwood

Station. I am far removed, but he stays

as close as one thought to another.

Call it addiction and subtraction.


Imagine him on a beach looking out

to the slate ocean. As many years

seem ahead of him as waves.

Imagine the shawl of a snowy field

sewn with the lace of black branches.


There is a whistle, the engine groans

and then we move. Caught among

the trees like bags of Spanish moss

is the mystery of our days. It is

the same greed that blinds a whore.


We speed past black mirrors

of standing water by the roadside.

Spartacus hangs in the reflection

with the crucifix of telephone poles

set one after another.


Many stand up alone like the cypress.

They are made of flesh, not wood,

and wonder, too. They were called

with hands open like all the rest.

To play catch, throw the ball back.


Men take a deer carcass from

an old pickup and flop it into the trunk

of a battered Cheve--four legs

stick out like an upside-down table.

Death brings the last erection.


Did you see that, from the corner

of your eye? It goes by in a flash.

In the middle of nowhere is a house

of antlers. Like the house of prayer,

a lamp for writing burns all night there.



--for Maureen Holm

Let.s sing of a wild rose, of one who flowers

in Babylon. She reads the scribble of the world

and translates it, spelling sweet from sour.


Maybe tomorrow she'll sweep the dust, somehow,

wash the dishes, do laundry, but maybe she won't.

The unkept house of desire matters little, now.


Babble rises with indifferent smoke across the river.

The hum of flesh rushes like a fountain in the heart.

l will walk with you, my arm around your shoulder,


and tell you how she weeps when poems

are read, and like a cypress donned with moss,

lifts up her woe while Jesus lifts the cross.



A jazz band in front of the cathedral trumpets

"Hold that Tiger." Indeed, we are to restrain

our passions--someone must hold the world

back, as well, before it blooms into fire.


A flock of sparrows fluters, turns and lands.

They come out of the sky in their own way.

Even as railcars roll with the trucks of war,

a boy skips in his new shoes.


Blades of monkey grass are polished with light.

The tongue of the wold says what it wants

as easily as a boat glides on water.

Because of this, l have stopped reading.

Workmen rip tarpaper for a new roof.


The body hurts to stand as the sun declines.

See how beads caught in a tree sparkle

like hope cast out.



--For Wayne Harvey

Try to tell a young man his clothes will hang

heavy on his bones the way slats of wood

hang weathered from an abandoned house.


He knows little of the work that keeps walls

from falling, or the patient ministry of struggle,

that is sleeping together and sleeping apart.


He cannot see night over the round horizon,

how love endures, or that others may turn

to live alone and study in their room.


Some read there is one who counts our breaths,

who finds our soul at last in smoke and carries

it like a candle beyond the long library of graves.


Let's hope so, for my generation comes to pass.

Far away at school, we gather for the break,

tested by the lessons for all who happen here.



Imagine how streetlights in the city suddenly

snap off when dawn advances into day.

That may be what dying is to a man whose

hospital breath is measured by machines.


Or does he slip into light like sunrise over

the prairie? Here, pink gradually washes

into orange and blue, while a gray mist

clings to the soft mud of February fields.


The earth's horizon emerges from a blur,

to float scattered archipelagos of farms

and groves, separate on a sea of straw.

It takes a while to find lovers in this haze.


We were as clean as flames back then,

believing that words could turn a heart,

until struck mute by beauty who walked

from class to class below a canopy of elms.


Some drank that cup, others didn't. Instead,

they now watch the rose of dawn ascend across

waves of prairie, to smooth out the details

of argument, the mergers men arrange,


implements of earth, long halls we enter

and leave, and all that is said by a glance.

We believed then that to press one upon

another was a balm that cured the self.


Those bold confusions are all silent, now.

Sunrise kisses the earth with light the way

bones kiss the underground--no one

whispers who sends us here and then away.


Our past dissolves like dawn into oblivion.

We wait behind a span of rippled glass,

bright enough to read what we still want,

in rooms that open to a flood of grass.



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