5 poems by Robert Klein Engler

Robert Klein Engler  lives in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a writer and artist. His many publications are available in print or online. Robert holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana and the University of Chicago Divinity School, where, among other subjects, he studied religious art.  Robert is represented by Connect Gallery in Omaha, NE and The Burkholder Project in Lincoln, NE. His mid-century modern prints are available a Mod-Lines, in Omaha, NE.  At present Robert is an Ed Tech Assistant at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.
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SHADOW BOXING
About loneliness, the generation of
98 was never wrong: It’s not the dark
that kills, but the cold; especially when
men and their dreams are growing old.
At one time it was lying on the grass 
of a hill to look at the heavens and 
wonder how far the stars go, and what 
he could do to make sure Tony didn’t go.
But go he did. You see, they were 
never wrong, we all go away: dear 
reader, you will go away, I could write, 
please stay, but only the poem stays.
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HOW A POEM IS MADE
He may see a piece of
paper blow down the street
and think it’s a bird.
He may pass Nebraska
and think, what do they
know about the long wound.
He may think I didn’t 
make anything from 
his absence. But I did.
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LIKE CATTULUS, HE TELLS THE HARD TRUTH
The snow comes firm to paint in white 
the street, followed by the plows at night 
that leave a charcoal slush of tracks,  
then a second snow erased all that.
I see this tableau from my frosted window, 
and then in my mind’s eye, I see how 
once he gathered up his bags to go.
The cogs of time make sure our story
fits the mold: A lover out of reach,
a wart born from a night’s lost glory,
like Dido, pacing on the Carthage beach. 
In Florida, he watches the palm trees 
wave—an old goodby, a new hello.
She stakes her claim from pure biology.
But just remember bitch, I bet HE will, 
although he often heads down south
to lap that pink, forget-me pill—
I took it first, his poison in my mouth.
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THE REACH
There, above us, a jet plane reaches 
east for the clouds, its belly filled with 
those who have business in the air.
See how its silver wings lift for an hour 
the hope and fear of all who travel, 
the guilty and the innocent, those ghosts 
who came here across the prairie
and leave now on the currents of air.
How far gone is the fog of the past,  
the motel door, a decision to walk away. 
I can’t hold that against him anymore.
The patch of brown lawn and a spiny tree 
outside my window tells me let go.
Why I got this far is a mystery to me.
Perhaps it is a purity that comes 
with age—a purity of impossibility.
The long reach from Bethlehem to Omaha,
is here in the gray river of ice that rubs 
a shore of tan weeds and scabs of snow.
His reaching after her at night under 
heavy blankets and her human warmth,
close, like the breath of a large animal,
this he remembers along with the heavy 
sleep of beer and words he’d rather not hear.
In days of covered wagons, the pioneers
would stop nearby at dusk, light a fire
and watch the long shadows reach across
the prairie grass, then the boy with a sore
foot would look across the flames
to the girl from St. Louis and feel
something in his loins reach out to her, 
reach with the hand of generations.
I reached, too, across the flames.
Was it water or was it sand that slipped
through my fingers? Now, with the snow
cascading still into a February afternoon,
I wonder if there is a reaching into
forgiveness, like an ideal drawing,
where a line is the memory of a perfect
gesture that reaches far into light.
They say he went crazy at the end.
A life-long lie will do that to a man.
So will holding to a life-long truth.
Then, came the reaching of a settlement.
She said, “You ended up a total louse,” 
Now, I want my kitchen all chrome.” 
That’s why she got the hilltop house,
and he alone the lysol nursing home.
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BONE
Try to see the spirits of the dead 
in a place beyond the clouds. 
Their names are written in light— 
but they cremated his body. 
And I had forgotten him for such 
a long time, only to remember 
my arms around his waist, pressing 
his back against my stomach, 
on purpose, as we ride his 
motorcycle to Orchard Downs, 
late one night after drinking. 
We bend into the curve. 
I hold on harder. 
This was as close as I would get 
to that bit of bone that does not 
burn up in the oven’s fire.
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Robert Klein Engler

The Joslyn Art Museum