the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night


Fall 2007



Robert Klein Engler

August, Champaign County

That flash of shadow is a hawk above the prairie.
Whatever is small scatters to the poplar grove.
Only the brave stand alone out there to mourn
like the wolf tree centered in a field of corn.

By the rails, Queen Anne’s lace balances in the heat.
Silos and the slant of barns are silver on the land.
Frame houses hold the gingham of give and take.
A heart must root somewhere even if it breaks.

This, reader, may be new to you, how the blond
corn sacrifices to the harvest, or how on the prairie
you see a man coming from far off with his burden.
Then, young men stoop to take it up all of a sudden.

Where are the once clear eyes, the shining hair,
the hand in yours after work? They are far away,
too, like islands floating in a sea of forgetfulness,
or the glow of telltale fires in an ancient wilderness.

A man whistles as he paints his girl friend’s porch.
Beyond the gate verdant fields repose like shrouds.
Maple leaves rustle, whither and then blow away.
Summer moves to fall with its memorial of clouds.

Sabbath Morning With Rain

The rap of rain sounds on the station roof.
You feel it in your joints, that ache of thirst.
The earth drinks it from gutters as if water
were bright eyes to see the world's stain.
The buses come, awash with sleeves of rain.

A congregation waits among the aroma
of incense mixed with the cries of babies
and damp light from stained glass windows.
Then, sounds the jangling of bells and chords
from the pipe organ above, as if in heaven.
Only saints forgive seven times seven.

It is the nature of the soul, like water,
to go a certain way and to love a certain one.
The swelling of limbs and the swelling of hearts
is nothing new. Nor is it new how we ravel
together or slip apart. Bedrock turns to gravel.

I know why we come here. We come to feel
a fire that melts our disappointment.
The alter boys with angelic faces step off,
right foot first. Beauty is called to beauty.
Sanctus. Sanctus. Sanctus. Once a week.
All rise. Even though the high roof leaks.

Ballad On the Solstice

The sun this brief December day
is half a light above the trees.
My wind-chimes sound just like the way
an old man fumbles with his ring of keys.

I feel the frost within my bones,
and stir exhausted coals of fire.
The world is white and made of stones.
Whatever happened to my blond desire?

It skates the night with steel support,
and tempts me in my halting prayers.
Let's hope the days of storms are short.
Already snow obscures the walk and stairs.

The lamp is on, the light is thin.
A simple room becomes an ark.
I pour my tea and read again:
It's not the cold that kills, it is the dark.

(Reprinted from The Granville Suite with permission of the author.)


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