the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Robert Klein Engler

Morning on Lee Street

You gotta get up early
If you wanna see the lady
Who spends her summer nights
Sleeping by the library door.
Come morning, she uses
The Porta-potty next
To the Hot-Wings store.

You gotta get up early
To see the bearded man
With one arm tap his way
Across the parking lot,
Then have a coughing fit
To start the long drawn day.
He searches the trash for butts.

You gotta get up early
To see an old man push his
Shopping cart, pinched
From Shop-n-Save
Across the Metra tracks.
The wheels wobble on
The cart just like his legs.

You gotta get up early
To see the Queen Ann's Lace
Like platforms for the bees.
You gotta see the sunrise above
The trees or the theater marquee
Announcing a long gone show.
You gotta get up early

If you wanna see the face
Of a town's humanity.
Why don't you get up early
And walk with me?
The sparrows flutter
In the Myrtle bush.
There's an awful lot to see.


Dressing Gown

There was a time this morning when the sky
to the east with billowed clouds turned pink
and bright. I thought of the sailor's warning
and how their grave is water. It's not easy,
life on a movable island, sharing the days
with raw humanity. And here, on the prairie,
with the roar of traffic carried on the wind,
I stop to think of Pharaoh with his dry millions.
They drag stone after stone, while the rose
of dawn extends across the sands of night.
Before I slip into the silk of madness, I write.


A Peace That Comes From Defeat

The great Japanese warrior and swordsman
Muneyoshi got to a point where he had enough.
He joined a monastery. Looking back on all his
razor edge had cut away, he saw his years as a
stone boat unable to cross the frothy sea of life.
We do not know if he sank into despair or smiled.

He told us this with brush and black ink on white,
rice paper, while all around the torches flamed
and peasants without names dug up cabbages
and plodded in the muddy fields keeping an eye
to see if smoke on the horizon would come closer.
They have no name, so who remembers them.

Young men want wars. The dojo floor shines from
the friction of their feet. Victory leading the people.
Vive la France! So much politics we slip in the street
wet with the blood of civil rights turned to civil
wrongs. Muneyoshi writes about the waste of war.
His poem is mine. We lost both beauty and time.

There is joy on the steps of the courthouse when
word comes the judges said same-sex marriage is
now possible, a joy, like the mass cry that went up
when the crowd heard Savonarola was dead or little
Alexie Romanov had a bullet tear away half his face.
He falls wearing a sailor suit into the Russian straw.

One sonnet series, one play, two long poems and
still the infection has not left the blood. Madness,
that's what we learn in analysis. Foolishness, that's
what you say when you are drunk, and then that
point in time where they were alone and he said
for once what cut away the shadow from his soul.

Muneyoshi sees what he wants. The valley is cast
in fog. Pine trees drop their diamonds of dew into
a stillness that is not yet still. The river rushes by.
From the pebbled bank the wheeze of horses
and the rattle of gear rises up. Swordsmen clash.
Whatever frees the soul happens in a flash.



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