Poems by Robert Klein Engler 

Evening Raga

The light falls platinum against the Civic Center wall. We are in Topeka, Kansas, the navel of America. There is a landlocked loneliness around, and, too, a loveliness of rolling hills not far off. I remember the face of a woman waiting yesterday for a bus on Dodge St. The evening light falls on her face like the moon as she sets a shopping bag against a poll. The bus will be a while. She has time to think of her daughter and the two kids. It's not been easy but it's been good. From the hotel window we see a Jeep follows the road's curve into the low hills and then is lost from sight. My mother would be rocking now on the front porch looking out into the bowl of night to ask what star could be a widow's star.

Shopping for Nothing at Lowe's

wheelbarrows are lined up 
deck chairs all in a row
the orphan geraniums wait
I tried to tell him there’s
a talking cure but it’s hard 
to say once you take away
the wound there is nothing 
nothing inside
the young man who loads 
sheetrock on the flatbed truck
is beautiful but he doesn’t 
know it so he bites down 
hard on his chewing gum 
and let’s the sheetrock fall 
on the flatbed there is a puff 
of white dust     that’s all

Jenny's Poem for Garrison Keillor

your voice comes to me on KVNO in Omaha
that station plays mostly classical music but 
at nine in the morning after BBC propaganda 
you tell us who was born on today’s date
and read a poem   by then summer sunlight 
has burnt away the fog that hugs the river on
humid mornings and I see clearly my work 
and why I must fix a false line in the painting 
of my mother dead so many years and if you
really cared you’d come here to see this because
I always hear you say at the end “be well, do 
good work and keep in touch” but how phony
is that — when you never answer my letters


he’s writing poems for the petite-bourgeoisie 
who don’t want them   OMG how can that be
he must have lived in another time when 

men wore fedoras and horses clopped with
motor cars       there he moved like a ghost 
in the city writing poems like ghost signs

that fade silently while a flight of bats pass 
below the moon the way seasons pass or 
stories pass into the grave and cemetery dust

the way my father passed and never heard 
of Ezra Pound or Lowell or even Eliot
about their poetry he could give a shit

there was a cloud of burnt perfume from 
his fat cigar while mother dished out 
potatoes on his plate after he came home
from work late   a spoon   a hand   a silence
a boy can’t get it out of his head those
funeral flowers    the aroma of the dead

that nursery rhyme   oranges and lemons 
say the bells of St. Clemens we are like
shellfish carrying our calcium caravans 

a band of gypsies where habit is the auto-
pilot of desire         oranges and lemons
a kaddish or a radish offered for the dead 

what do we achieve by the art of words 
after drinking from Wittgenstein’s well 
art is artificial   poems are about poems 

Dante on his Dante-way had his Dante say
but I won’t send a motherfucker to hell just
let them get there in their own damn way

she takes the bait  his marriage falls apart
the old Republic’s seen a better day 
behold the worm that gnaws the heart

I head down the hall    too much to drink
the roast the wine the talk of virtue and 
philosophy now makes me stop to think

isn’t it true  Plato  we always want more
I’d love to turn around to see him stand
beckoning in the doorway like a whore 

dead metaphors are about 
as helpful as a dead father

try to 
find a brilliant 
set words that sums 
it up  the rose  the thorn 
a reason why we’re born

yo bitch make it new again 
the process is the poem
forgive me I was too 
hard on them flesh 
from their flesh 

one day you could be rummaging in the backyard and 
turn over a stone and see something that shimmers 
in the mud and that is like how one day he looks 
in the mirror and sees he is in love(again)and it 
is another foolishness but still is a surprise 
that the once dry well has yet at the very 
bottom that which glimmers in the 
moonlight and so he lowers his 
bucket and wrenches 
up what he can 
and drinks

you’d think 
he’d know better 
after the blizzard of ’67
a hand upon a thigh is not enough
worse still he wants more than he can get

yes the politics of desire is written down
because Monica Monica Monica 
plays the pink harmonic
ashes  ashes   all fall

the ashes fall and fall
he plays the pink harmonica
oh dear Monica Monica Monica
yes the story of desire is written down

a child cries  
and cannot write a poem
such is the world a dream a  
sore a joy what is this growing 
sour my boy regret lingers like the 
canvas light above a field of snow what
is this going out this coming home to live
alone is practice for the grave a faith without
community was the way of life for Lazarus risen
from the dead but always to wear a mask of perfume 

see how I string words the way my mother would 
string our laundry along the sag of a clothesline 
I would watch how my father’s shirts filled 
with a breeze as if his ghost were upon 
us and then turn to watch bees visit 
the pink phlox that grow along 
the backyard fence where
there is in shadows
a doom

here’s what they said in smokey 
Paris cafés
you can live without religion 
but not without art
Cézanne cleaned his paintbrush 
after every stroke
my father had a failed heart

when winter covers our trace with shrouds 
of snow  so much we want will be erased 
perhaps by shades        perhaps by light

behind a comb of rusty colored trees
steam from the power plant billows up
against the Loess Hills white to gray     
then more and more to end the day

I remember a sunset over the Ganges 
the holy men are dressed in ashes 
funny how the bloom comes and goes
or how the high jets write their vapor

trails and then below the bitter cold beats 
down like a hammer on an iron plate 
from my high window you see where 
the river bends and a grid of streets 

and then the dark where Omaha ends how
fortunate we are not yet to have the mass 
graves of politics here   but if you wish 
to play that game then murder is at stake

if we could make it through the month
of expiation to have a life in a dilapidated 
house with the curse of cats or not to be one 
of the aborted with only stagnant puddles
of thaw for memories then we should be 
thankful for today or any day because 
the sense of it is mingled with desire beyond 
my wit or sophomoric trust in dry philosophy

the clerics say they care but never give a shit
you know our wish is like a constant moth
we fly towards that sustaining fire even if it
is a pale light shining through a muted cloth

I had a friend who could have been a noble
Roman who had courage to die without help
from the gods I think of him come Mardi Gra

come play the evening raga listen as the tabla 
pulses in with its heart beat rhythm see here
how flows the River of Arrows and there 

the River of Sorrows how could such a love 
ever find a place in the world it was pure 
imagination   it was desire and it was release

nowadays poets want to write prose poems because American art is all about facts like after I see the hawk take the pigeon I don’t see much more except how sunlight burns away the morning fog that clings to the river and every now and then there is a flash of chrome off cars that speed on the expressway and then tufts of feathers like snowflakes float past my window and later                           

I sit in Mr. Toad’s far from the noise of
the street and drink a beer to see above 
the bar is a painting of an odalisque 

who reclines on a couch with breasts 
like twin moons in an alien heaven 
while her leg disappears into shadows

and I remember Benares with its jigsawed 
temples that press on smoke along the 
Ganges where a man parts the water

as if it were the muddy Sea of Reeds 
then lifts his dripping hands to heaven 
that was the year of NO the Dante NO 

now, the flame of a declining sun burns 
its way into evening  the centering gravity
of Omaha says I am homeward bound 

listen, what is that knock upon the door 
tell him to go away not yet just a little 
more someone calls us here and someone 

calls us all away cantant quasi cantium 
nouvam that burns away the world and 
makes the ash of love like new again

what is written, is spelled in lemon ink
and what is loved is loved through 
a glass darkly and so they settled here 

to live in sod houses and gave birth to 
a son who saw in the ocean of prairie 
and endless sky archangels announcing 

the wheat will be cut out from the chaff 
forsooth we are the forlorn sons of Cain
even if love is mistaken it is not wasted

River of Arrows       River of Sorrows 
we throw our shadow down and count
our yesterdays but not tomorrows

rain falls in the ocean that needs it not
Mumbai to Kolkata  Kolkata to Agra
listen  cecidet  cecidet Babylon magna

                                                                                              Robert Klein Engler lives in enjoyable exile in Omaha, Nebraska.