The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

By John Engman

    I wanted to be a rain salesman,
because rain makes the flowers grow,
but because of certain diversions and exhaustions,
certain limitations and refusals and runnings low,
because of chills and pressures, shaky prisms, big blows,
and apes climbing down from banana trees, and dinosaurs
weeping openly by glacial shores, and sunlight warming
the backsides of Adam and Eve in Eden...
                                        I am paid
to make the screen of my computer glow, radioactive
leakage bearing the song of the smart money muse:
this little bleep went to market, this little clunk has none.

    The woman who works the cubicle beside me has pretty knees
and smells of wild blossoms, but I am paid to work
my fingers up and down the keys, an almost sexy rhythm,
king of the chimpanzees picking fleas from his beloved.
I wanted to be a rain salesman , but that's a memory
I keep returning to my childhood for minor repairs:
the green sky cracking, then rain, and after,
those flowers growing faster than I can name them,
those flowers that fix me and and make me stare.

    I wanted to be a rain salesman,
carrying my satchel full of rain from door to door,
selling thunder, selling the way air feels after a downpour,
but there were no openings in the rain department,
and so they left me dying behind this desk-adding bleeps,
subtracting clunks-and I would give a bowl of wild blossoms,
some rain, and two shakes of my fist at the sky to be living.
Above my desk, lounging in a bed of brushstroke flowers,
a woman beckons from my cheap Modigliani print, and I know
by the way she gazes that she sees something beautiful
in me. She has green eyes. I am paid to ignore her.


"In prosperous America, the poet's economic reality usually involves working a crap job while scribbling nightly in a cheap apartment. Before my pal John Engman suffered a brain aneurysm in his 40s, he toiled in such obscurity," writes Mary Karr in Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "He lived in Minnesota, bussed tables, did standup comedy for a while, taught a class or two at a local community center, but only published two 'Work,' his desire to be a 'rain salesman' suggests an obscure poet's longing to break free from selling his word processing skills and move toward the exalted skill of selling beauty to readers. We owe the construction of our cities and the frying of our burgers and the processing of our words to the efforts of unsung workers like Engman, who died in 1996."

The weather forecast this morning said that there might be storms in the afternoon, so although we had toyed with the idea of going to Solomon's or to the Maryland Renaissance Festival, we decided to postpone those plans and go downtown to the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress. The former has an exhibit closing soon on Arms and Armor in Shakespeare, which we figured would be fun to see before going to the Renfaire anyway. It wasn't a very large exhibit but there was some lovely stuff -- the Earl of Pembroke's suit of armor, a sword that had been underwater for 500 years after the siege of Castillon, a Native American staff -- plus there's a First Folio in a case in the same exhibition hall, and a new film about the library's preservation work.

A 1606 Danish publication of the treatise by celebrated sword master Salvator Fabris on the science of rapier combat.

The swept-hilt sword of a Munich town guard from ~1600, on loan from the Higgins Armory Museum in Massachusetts.

A buckler from the 1500s, probably made in Italy, similar in style to the ones worn by Englishmen over their belts for quick self-defense.

The aforementioned Earl of Pembroke's fashionable suit of armor.

A book with jousting instruction for exhibitions and against live opponents, published in Frankfurt in 1616.

From the theatre lobby, Michael Learned's costume from a 2003 Folger revival of Maxwell Anderson's 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen.

From the north facade of the library, a bas-relief panel by John Gregory depicting the central triangle of Hamlet...

...and another illustrating Bottom's adventure from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Library of Congress recently revamped its visitor center so that tourists as well as scholars can have access to some of its more interesting holdings. It has three fabulous exhibits right now: one on Thomas Jefferson's library, which became the foundation of the Library of Congress after the British burned the original congressional library, another on the creation of the United States through its documents, with rough drafts and letters about the Declaration of Independence and Constitution written by Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Mason, et al (you can see in their own handwriting the argument about whether to abolish slavery), and a third on exploring the Americas, with a fantastic early map exhibit, a collection of naturalist studies and a study of the effects on the people already here of the colonists and vice versa. There's also a wonderful side display on pirates and piracy and a display of maps of Drake's voyages.

I found a DVD copy of Paul Mazursky's Tempest with John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands in the Folger gift shop and intended to watch it in the evening, but Adam was working on a school project that he needed help putting together and by the time I sat down, it was after 10. So instead we watched the Clemson/Alabama game (well, some of us watched and some of us mostly ignored it), and I'm going to bed early so I can wake up early and get dressed for the Renfaire!

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