Countdown, #2 “Review: Robert Okaji’s “From Every Moment a Second”

My last five posts of 2017 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year.

FROM EVERY MOMENT A SECOND

Robert Okaji
Finishing Line Press
2017

★★★★★

From Every Moment A Second, the latest chapbook by American poet Robert Okaji, is yet another meticulously crafted collection of observations, private austerities and hesitancies spelt out in verse. A small collection of twenty poems, each feels “warm”, like a cozy winter Sunday on your living room couch – to paraphrase Junichiro Tanizaki – lost in contemplation of flavours to come.

What makes it a five star collection is each poem is clear in its vision, each unambiguously a part of the greater gist of the book. Each line shows where lesser works ‘tell’, and thus this collection feels like a series of tiny one act plays. Part of this is how each line and stanza feels like it has been put exactly in its proper place, that any further edits would remove a character or…

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It’s humbling yet fitting that the second most popular post on the blog in 2017 was actually a reblog from Daniel Schnee’s site.

Countdown: #3, How to Do Nothing

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My last five posts of 2017 are reruns of the five most viewed posts on this site during the year. This one appeared in June.

How to Do Nothing

First you must wash the window to observe more clearly
the dandelion seed heads bobbing in the wind. Next,

announce on Facebook and Twitter that you will be offline
for the next two days, if not forever. Heat water for tea.

Remember the bill you forgot to pay, and then cleanse
your mind of all regret. Consider industrial solvents

and the smoothness of sand-scoured stone, the miracle
of erasure. Eliminate all thought, but remember

the water. Hitch a ride on a Miles Davis solo and float
away on a raft of bluesy notes and lions’ teeth,

and wonder how to sabotage your neighbor’s leaf blower,
but nicely, of course. She’s a widow with a gun.

Now it is time to empty yourself. Close your eyes.
Become a single drop of dew on a constellation of petals.

Evaporate, share the bliss. Stuff that dog’s bark
into a lock box alongside the tapping at the door,

the phone’s vibration, the neighbor’s rumbling bass,
and the nagging, forgotten something that won’t

solidify until three in the morning, keeping you awake.
But don’t ignore the whistling. You must steep the tea.

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“How to Do Nothing” was published in Volume 4 of Steel Toe Review, available for purchase here.

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Countdown: #4, My Writing Space

My last five posts of 2017 are reruns of the five most viewed posts on this site during the year. This one appeared in July.

I am fortunate to have a writing space of any sort, much less a comfortable one.

Shack X

This is the shack that launched a thousand rejections…or something like that. It’s small, with a 10 x 12 footprint, and is getting crowded inside.  The photo was taken in August 2013, a few weeks before the interior was finished out. Note the inspector, Jackboy, with his ball.

Shack 1

The most important feature of the shack is the air conditioner. The bookcases are nice, too, but the heat would be unbearable without the a/c unit.

Shack 2

Books keep migrating here. I wonder why. The cattle dog spent many hours in the dog bed, but the Chihuahuas prefer the house.

Shack 3

I try to use the available space as efficiently as possible, hence the skinny book cases. The painting is by Stuckist painter Ron Throop, whose art and words inspire me.

Shack 4

The desk is usually messier than this…

Shack 5

Birds often smacked into the righthand window, until I added the little mobile fabricated from a piece of cedar and wooden bird ornaments.

Shack 6

Yes, that’s a stationary bike. The good thing about having such a small space is that I can ride the bike and reach over for a sip of beer without having to pause.

Shack last

I’ve been banging on that guitar for forty years. It’s a little worn, but then so am I. The broadside is a Galway Kinnel poem, “Little Children’s Prayer,” which joins a small group of signed broadsides in the shack, featuring poems by Jane Hirshfield, Arthur Sze and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. Alas, I’m running low on wall space.

Countdown: #5, Mushrooms I Have Known

 

My last five posts of 2017 are reruns of five of the most viewed posts on this site during the year. I was surprised and pleased to find this one made the list.

 

Mushrooms I Have Known

Reticent and tired, withdrawn,
dejected, I return.

Emerging overnight from nothing,
then withering back to zero.

Does light incite you?
The shade?

I walk by and say hello.
You do not speak.

Obsession: Books, or, Poetry Finds Me

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In another life books framed my days. I slept with them, dreamt about them, woke to their presence stacked by the bed and in various corners throughout the house, read them, handled them, discussed their merits with friends, co-workers, beer-drinking buddies, bartenders, customers, strangers, relatives, and even enemies. Traced my fingers slowly down their spines, identified some by odor alone, others by weight and feel. Bought, sold, cleaned, lent, skimmed, traded, gave, borrowed, collected, repaired, preserved, received. Traveled to acquire more, returned home to find still others languishing in never-opened, partially read or barely touched states. There were always too many. There were never enough.

The relationship began innocently. I’ve been an avid reader since the age of five, and over the years developed a knack for uncovering uncommon modern first editions. I’d walk into a thrift shop and spot a copy of William Kennedy’s first novel, The Ink Truck, snuggling up to Jane Fonda’s workout book, for a buck. Or at a small town antique store, something especially nice, perhaps a near-fine first edition of Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark, would leer at me from a dark shelf – $1.50. John Berryman’s Poems (New Directions, 1942) found me at a garage sale, for a quarter. Good Will yielded Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. There were others, of course. Many others.

I partnered with a few like-minded friends and opened a store, and when that didn’t work out, started my own home-based book business, which eventually expanded into a small brick-and-mortar shop, a true labor of love. And I mean labor. The forlorn space we rented was cheap and had housed for years a low-end, illicit massage parlor. Cleaning it out was, oh, shall we say interesting? I’ll never forget the furry massage table, the naked lady lamp or the various implements left behind after the joint was finally forced to close. But we hauled out the filthy carpeting, stripped and refinished the hardwood floors, fixed, painted and patched what we could, and hid what we couldn’t. It was exhausting, but well worth the toil.

My work schedule ran from Monday through Sunday, a minimum of eighty hours a week – in a seven-year period, I took off only two long weekends. It consumed me, but in the end I emerged mostly intact, a little more aware of my proclivities, of an unhealthy tendency to immerse myself wholly into an enthusiasm, to the detriment of family and friends. When we sold our store’s wares, I embraced the change; some dreams simply deplete you. But the itch remained.

Just a few weeks ago I found myself perusing an accumulation of books in a storage facility across the street from a junk shop in Llano, Texas, a small county seat an hour’s drive west of my home on the outskirts of Austin. The shop’s owner had purchased an English professor’s estate, and judging by the collection, the professor had specialized in poetry. My first thought was “I want it all,” but reason set in (I could very well imagine my wife’s reaction were I to arrive home with a trailerful of books) so I glanced over the criticism, fiction, drama, essays and biographies, and concentrated on the poetry. In the end I walked away with thirty-one books, including H.D.’s Red Roses for Bronze (Chatto & Windus, 1931), Randall Jarrell’s Little Friend, Little Friend, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems and Questions of Travel, a brace of Berrymans – His Toy, His Dream, His Rest and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet – both the U.S. and U.K. first editions, which differ – and Love & Fame. A good haul, to say the least, but one that left me only partially satisfied and contemplating a return. But I remain resolute. So far.

As I said, the itch remains…

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This first appeared in April 2015.

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Chili, Chocolate and Chihuahuas

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This piece has appeared on the blog during the last two Decembers. It seems to be a cold weather thing.

Chili, Chocolate and Chihuahuas

The Lovely Wife has jetted off to the great Midwest, leaving me behind to sort the pages of an unruly poetry manuscript in the company of Apollonia, the eight-pound terror of Texas, and Ozymandias, her doting, but worried, nine-pound shadow. As noon departs I note hunger’s first tentative touch, and head to the grocery store for supplies. I’m craving chili, but not having a particular recipe in mind, decide to see what strikes my fancy.

Ah, the sun at last!
No more rain, the yard’s drying.
Our dogs, shivering.

For my chili base I’ll sometimes toast dried ancho peppers, rehydrate and puree them, but I’ve recently replenished my chile powder stock (ancho, chipotle, New Mexico, cayenne, smoked paprika) and feel just a tad lazy, so I’ll use the powdered stuff. But I pick up a poblano, some jalapeños and two onions, and on my way to the meat counter, grab a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes and some spiced tomato sauce. I examine the beef and nothing entices me (ground beef is anathema, and don’t even mention beans!), but a few paces away I spy a small pork roast, and place it in my cart alongside a 16-oz bottle of Shiner Bock and a bag of chocolate chips.

Knowing my plans, the
cashier smiles and shakes her head.
Milk chocolate chips?

Shuffling the manuscript pages, I ask the dogs for their input. But Apollonia declines, preferring to nap in a sunbeam, and Ozzie is too busy pacing to bother with poetry. So I turn to the impending dinner, chop onion, dice peppers, mince garlic, measure out the various chile powders, cumin and oregano, cube the pork, and brown it in the Dutch oven.

Ozymandias
sits by the front door and moans.
Wind rattles the house.

Once the meat is seared, I saute the veggies, dump in the canned tomatoes and chile powder mixture, add the meat, coating it with the spices, and then pour in the Shiner Bock and heat it all to a near-boil before reducing the temperature and allowing it to simmer for an hour, at which point I stir in about four ounces of the chocolate chips and a teaspoon of garam masala. I let the chili simmer for another hour, then remove half of the pork, shred it with a fork (it’s very tender), and return it to the pot, stir, taste, and add a little salt. Done. I ladle out a bowl, pour a La Frontera IPA, and eat. Not bad, I think. Not bad at all for the first chili of the season.

Beer in hand, I burp,
the dogs stirring underfoot.
Only four more nights…

 

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