Late into Yazoo City

We roll through Mississippi.
Dry colors of clay and bony trees
barricade the fields. The stones
of one life are broken to make
a roadbed for the new.

Drizzle falls almost weightlessly
into the orange light of Greenwood
Station. I am far removed, but he stays
as close as one thought to another.
Call it addiction and subtraction.

Imagine him on a beach looking out
to the slate ocean. As many years
seem ahead of him as waves.
Imagine the shawl of a snowy field
sewn with the lace of black branches.

There is a whistle, the engine groans
and then we move. Caught among
the trees like bags of Spanish moss
is the mystery of our days. It is
the same greed that blinds a whore.

We speed past black mirrors
of standing water by the roadside.
Spartacus hangs in the reflection
with the crucifix of telephone poles
set one after another.

Many stand up alone like the cypress.
They are made of flesh, not wood,
and wonder, too. They were called
with hands open like all the rest.
To play catch, throw the ball back.

Men take a deer carcass from
an old pickup and flop it into the trunk
of a battered Cheve--four legs
stick out like an upside-down table.
Death brings the last erection.

Did you see that, from the corner
of your eye? It goes by in a flash.
In the middle of nowhere is a house
of antlers. Like the house of prayer,
a lamp for writing burns all night there.


Requiem Approaching Mattoon

Imagine how streetlights in the city suddenly
snap off when dawn advances into day.
That may be what dying is to a man whose
hospital breath is measured by machines.

Or does he slip into light like sunrise over
the prairie? Here, pink gradually washes
into orange and blue, while a gray mist
clings to the soft mud of February fields.

The earth's horizon emerges from a blur,
to float scattered archipelagos of farms
and groves, separate on a sea of straw.
It takes a while to find lovers in this haze.

We were as clean as flames back then,
believing that words could turn a heart,
until struck mute by beauty who walked
from class to class below a canopy of elms.

Some drank that cup, others didn't. Instead,
they now watch the rose of dawn ascend across
waves of prairie, to smooth out the details
of argument, the mergers men arrange,

implements of earth, long halls we enter
and leave, and all that is said by a glance.
We believed then that to press one upon
another was a balm that cured the self.

Those bold confusions are all silent, now.
Sunrise kisses the earth with light the way
bones kiss the underground--no one
whispers who sends us here and then away.

Our past dissolves like dawn into oblivion.
We wait behind a span of rippled glass,
bright enough to read what we still want,
in rooms that open to a flood of grass.


Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago and New Orleans. More of his work may be found by googling his name. His books are available from