Our present age is a storm.
Come closer. I am cold. Wait.
Things sexual are always tinged with guilt.
Go back, through the first gate,
over dead leaves, into our first world.
In the department store there are
so many purses for sale,
all pregnant with a leather and brass void.
They would be filled up the way a woman
would be filled up with a child.
See that guy all dressed in green?
Iko, Iko, unday. He’s not a man;
He’s a lovin’ machine. Jockamo fee nané.
Oh, man, this music makes me feel the best.
And then what? The grief of our divorce
stays removed like the rivets of faraway islands.
We glide past at night on lightung ships.
Their silhouette of scars haunts the horizon.
“I never go there,” a preppy tour guide admits.
“Why be reminded that pain is the price for desire?”
Descend into the world of perpetual solitude.
The best ink is made from love gone sour.
All metaphors begin in the body.
Bones bear flesh and the sky bears clouds.
The metaphor that comes with joy is science.
The metaphor that comes with tears is religion.
When the body is broken, the light of words
comes forth, like the light of fire,
the light of the rose garden, the light of rivers,
and the smoky light of moss and cypress.
We, who carry the burden of flesh
would gladly give it up for bodies of light.
Remember when you were young and looked
out the window to see beauty playing alone
in the street? Something drew you towards him,
something born from the body but carried over
to another realm. If language is a tongue of fire,
then this fire can melt one thing with another,
and weld past, present and future to one.
So, a woman puts on the metaphor of her face.
It is a sad face, a minor Mardi Gras
of cheap powder, lipstick, and rouge.
This only helps the way a ritual helps.
Does father Abraham with his cattle and sons
think her loneliness comes from milk or from ink?
In the bayou, they tell of a mother who lifted
high the bright coin of her little son
as she stood on the jetty so that her husband,
in an approaching skiff, could see his wealth.
But the baby kicked with joy from his mother’s
hands and fell head first into the pink purse
of a lurking alligator’s mouth.
They beat the water with poles but found nothing.
Let her put on a face. Let rain fall into the river.
The most pressing demand placed on metaphor
is the hope that those excluded will be included,
that the rejected will be accepted and carried over.
In this desert of inertia the chatter of words
withers like the parched click of locust.
Our will, and not formulas, must change.
What is hell but a steamroom
where all the mixed metaphors congregate?
Yet one man’s meat is another man’s modesty.
Workmen fill the pit with gravel.
Dry basil leaves leak the oil of summer.
Nothing shows the truth of sex better
than the merciless light of a hotel bathroom.
Such courage it takes for the old sinner
just to pause and go to sleep.
OK. You have fifty years. How many
metaphors can you make out of one loss?
Remember Rainer Maria Rilke?
He gave up being human to become a poet.
Did it work? Here is a measure of how far
we’ve come: No. 82—a BUS named “Desire.”
A haunting question remains about most poetry.
Is it thoroughly bad, or has it risen to the level
of mediocrity? Others say it resembles not so
much an artificial flower, but an artificial bud.
Sometimes, when the soul thaws,
the hand stops writing.
Why suffer a poetic vision? Why the daring
bloom of forsythia this mid-March morning
of damp regrets? Politicians pretend wisdom,
but something else churns below our will.
A man looks at his grandchildren, his big house,
land, cattle and fields. Is all this good,
or has he only added to the troubles of the world?
The hell with it! If beauty is what you want,
then go for it, like lesbians lost in love who
swoon on cellphones with their turtledoves.
Yet, when Anthony came forth from the tomb
after fasting twenty years, he was as fresh as a youth.
Jack, however, spends his life as a sportscaster.
Like Hegel, he tries to make something out of nothing.
All our work of planting and building,
the geometry of jewels and jars, all for
the dark draw of the body in love, all so
we may walk in the garden with our Lord.
My mother married a man who filled
her up with children, but the shadows
of the orphanage were always with her
and the blessing from the wilderness, too.
Whenever I see cheap, porcelain figurines
I know she would buy them so that a small
light would grace our table, so that shadows
would not eat even the fringes.
Take this candlelight, my mother.
Let it worry while you sleep.
Our days are dull until we all return.
The ribbed plates of the store escalator
unfold downward—a stairfall and not a waterfall.
America is the last stop on the way West.
Democracy for most is just a life endured.
Watch from the window by the stairs for our
home burial and hope the sparrows have enough to eat
among the dry hedgerows and the asphalt street.
See what we rise up in face of the grave,
see how the skin spots and hands gnarl,
yet comes the bright frolic of youth,
the way a dog runs careless to the river
on a hot day to roll in the cool mud.
The cypress with its silver shawls of moss,
and the moon the color of bone above a pool—
how unsure we pole the liquid dark.
The long light falls on pier and wharf,
then on the sentinels of pylons
and the sanded rust of hulls.
Twin cranes bow isosceles
into the rich, alluvial soil.
Finally, at the half end of day
the muddy river turns silver-blue
and floats doubloons of chrome.
If you had a lover you would visit her
with a skip and wave close
to the humidity of human breath.
The liquor of our longing, a comb of gray trees,
a fan of birds in flight, and the call
of a mother who worries for her child,
all come to us the way the wind brings music.
Around Three Mile Point the promise of salons
and bordellos waits. You have to love the lowlands
and the human heart to live in this place.
Where else do shadows glide on skates of fog?
Where else does the smokefall and footfall
echo against slate and tendrils of wrought iron?
This is the raw zero of summer and loss.
Festooned with glass and frozen ropes of gold,
the empty parlors wait. Draw closer. I am cold.
The long view that comes with emptying
the heart pleads for all that falls apart—
Alexander and Evangeline, the pride of victory
and the balm of wine, here, now, mingled
in the dust and setting sun, imagine
that fire and rose are one. Dung and death,
vault and white sarcophagus,
say to these at last the metaphor,
“Hoc est meum corpus.”
Robert Klein Engler lived in Omaha, Nebraska. His long poem, The Accomplishment of Metaphor and the Necessity of Suffering, set partially in New Orleans, is published by Headwaters Press, Medusa, New York, 2004. He received an Illinois Arts Council award for his “Three Poems for Kabbalah.” If you google his name, then you may find his work on the internet. Some of his books are available at Lulu.com and amazon.com.
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