Robert Klein Engler

Cloister of the Zodiac


It takes a while to learn there is a
secret garden. Some only stumble
upon it the way an artist stumbles
upon a style after years of effort,
and then effort becomes effortless.


Primary or secondary.
Together or alone.


A young man wants a new job.
On his own, he needs money.
That is why you see him naked,
drawn out on cotton rag paper—
frozen hard on a white wall.


I don’t draw children of the rich.
They remind me of original sin,
and why some paintings are never
well done, even if a father spends
millions for a charcoal smudge
of anguish his children never feel.


Lightning. Art.
A poem. We don’t
know when they strike,
but you must go out in the rain.


Now, a few pink daisies find room to
flower. They are the only color here
besides the green and beige shades of
October. We came by one afternoon
in summer when teenage lovers sat
on the mossy bricks and made out.
I can’t take my gaze off their revenge.


The God of Israel desires beauty.
But not too beautiful. That will
make doubters turn away. To be
safe, let there be beauty of words.


The superstitious believe because
the earth revolves through arcs of
space and our galaxy arcs through
a zodiac of stars, this lover is right
or this color best belongs in shade.
He knows I look at him even when
his back is turned, stargazing again.


Much of making art, like making
love is waiting. We wait and look.
That one with vivid blue eyes looks
back to answers my questions with
a sweet voice. The line runs out.
If I draw it farther, the perfect arc
will be ruined, so I turn and leave.


You can’t look at this picture
with droopy, domesticated eyes.
Look at it as if you are hungry
for meat. You have teeth for it.


Look here. No one paints hands
like Rembrandt, yet how yellow
floats above this sketch of a river
reminds me of how a soprano
floats her note above our reach.


A small pool in the center of the cloister
reflects like a black mirror. It is not seen
in summer if the garden is overgrown.
A golden head, above drowning, rests
in the obsidian water, eyes closed, but
not like a Buddha. Something still hurts.
You may tell by the draw of the mouth.

Robert Klein Engler lives in Omaha, Nebraska and sometimes New Orleans. Many of Robert’s poems, stories, paintings and photographs are set in the Crescent City. 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 has received an Illinois Arts Council award for his “Three Poems for Kabbalah.” More at