Robert Klein Engler
SHIPWRECKED ON THE NORTH ATLANTIC -
THE FIRST OF FEBRUARY 1826
The storm tosses us like a straw.
Our sails blow out.
Carpenters saw down the masts.
With my eyes shut, the ship slams against
the waves like a barn door loose in the wind.
Afterwards, the deck is a mystery of wires
and tangled lines-we drift for days-
it is like looking into oil-
there is the smell of tar and old fish.
You don't know what thirst is.
The soul shrinks, the tongue swells
to the size of a second body.
The taste of salt makes us mad.
Those who drink the sea will die.
Hunger grows like a wild vine.
Even our toes have teeth.
We chew on our belts and shoes.
I look at the men and see wolves.
When the first man dies
we slit his throat and drink the blood.
It was thick and warm-
custard with a taste of iron.
Someone cuts off the head and hands
and throws them into the sea.
We butcher the body and set strips of meat
on the quarterdeck to cure in the sun.
This is our food-we drift for days on end.
When my fiancé dies I drink his blood, too.
His strips of flesh sweeten like licorice
on the sun-bleached deck.
Finally we see a sail-
the H.M.S. Blonde sends over a boat.
A lieutenant is shocked to see us,
so worn, but signals his captain,
"They have yet plenty of fresh meat."
I live in London now
and keep a sponge damp
for pressing to my lips.
I never married.
When the fog comes
I light a fire and stay inside.
Just the smell of stew makes me sick.
Do you think the city has enough food?
Copyright 1991, Robert Klein Engler
Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago. He taught for many years at the
City Colleges of Chicago and was chairman of the Social Sciences Department
until he was banned from the college by the Chancellor on May 16th,
1997. He now teaches at Roosevelt University. His poems and
stories have appeared in Borderlands, Evergreen Chronicles,
Hyphen, Christopher Street, The James White Review,
American Letters and Commentary, Literal Latté, and
many other magazines and journals. His books of poetry, One Hundred
Poems and Medicine Signs, are published by Alphabeta
Press. "Shipwrecked on the North Atlantic" first appeared in Bluff
Switched-on Gutenberg/Vol. 4, No. 2