About robert okaji

At one time I was a sailor. I once owned a bookstore. I live in Texas with my wife, two dogs, and a few books.

Strollermelon

 

 

Strollermelon

In the summer I roll them from grocer to bus stop, little bonnets
affixed, cooing all the while – cantaloupe, watermelon, honey dew,
casaba, canary, sugar, you name it, they all come home with me,
in pairs or solo, snuggled tightly in blankets and ensuring
dropped-jaw, raised-eyebrow gapes from those who approach.
Don’t they look just like their mother, I ask, and no one ever disagrees.
Everybody is so nice, even the teen-age boys who no longer offer up
their seats. But Damon, who recently purchased new pants to impress
Wanda-I’m-An-Attorney, enjoys whispering secrets to us. Did you
know they’re actually berries? And that some are called fruit,
others, vegetables? They’re not much good for pies, though. I just
call them “Mel,” which is funny because I know that you’re not
supposed to name something you’re going to eat, and really, I do
recognize the difference between sentient beings and plants, but
then candidate Harumph comes to mind, and how do you explain
him and his followers? When cool weather approaches, I turn to
squash. Happy acorn, the elongated, sad butternut, pumpkin. Each
holds a niche in my heart, and I love strolling down the sidewalk
with them, humming tunes, adjusting stems, planning meals.

 

* * *

“Strollermelon” was first drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was published in Quiet Letter in April 2017. Thanks to Plain Jane for providing the odd title. One never knows what’ll arise from sponsored titles!

 

Door Haibun

 

Door Haibun

The glass remains unchanged but what I see through it differs moment by moment. This door is truly of a port in air; I observe these shifting worlds, their translucent seconds ever ticking. Nothing rests – the Texas mountain laurel’s blossoms fade and flutter to the ground while the wind weaves intricate patterns through its branches. Rogue onion sprouts scatter throughout this small section of yard, and a squirrel scampers along the cedar pickets. Light slants through a hole in the clouds. A hummingbird buzzes by. Even the earth moves, and five minutes ago rain tapped out an inconsistent tune on my metal roof. I lift the shakuhachi to my lips, and exhaling, enter the day.

three dogs yapping
announce spring’s arrival
oh, sweet music!

 

“Door Haibun” first appeared here in April 2018.

Icarus (with recording)

feather02-2

 


Icarus

Currents of breath, the slight curve and lift
within a single motion, once

poised then released as if to say
the wind is mine, or wait,
I am alone –

the story we most fear, not height nor gravity’s
fist, but to exist apart, shadow and

mouth, rain and smile, feather
and sun, all denials reciprocal,

each tied fast and renewed.

 

sun

 

“Icarus” first appeared here in April 2016, and subsequently was published in The Basil O’Flaherty in November 2016.

Helsinki (with recording)

Helsinki

Helsinki

An editor said never start a poem at a window,
so instead I’m looking at the door,

which is made of glass. We are to avoid rain,
too, but it streaks the pane in such delicious

patterns that I can’t help but pretend to be someone else
in a foreign city, perhaps Helsinki, sipping black coffee

with a mysterious woman younger than my daughter
(who also does not exist), whose interests

in me are purely literary, although she straightens
my collar with lingering, scented fingers. Garden

memories and birds must never populate our lines,
but corpses are fine, as are tube tops and bananas

and any combination thereof. I finish my coffee
and wander alone through cobblestone streets,

stepping over clichés when possible, kicking them
aside when my hip joint argues, or simply accepting

their useful limitations when nothing else works.
Unknown and lacking credentials, I shrug, go on

past the closed doors behind which unseen bodies
perform the most bizarre and sensual solo dances,

or not, and shadows cook sausages over fire
and the grease spattering onto the tiled counters

issues a fragrance that awakens neighborhood dogs
and maybe a dozing stall-keeper at the market

where cloudberries are sometimes found.
I know little of Finland, and less of myself,

and then there’s poetry, which remains a blank
frame, a frosted pane I’ll never truly unlatch.

* * *

My poem “Helsinki” was first published at Panoply. It was inspired in part by a Facebook thread on which editors commented on what caused them to instantly reject poems. One said beginning a poem at a window was cause for rejection. Hence the first line.

Poems in Oxidant | Engine’s BoxSet Series, Vol. 2

 

“Letter to Wright” is included in my collection of twelve poems found in Volume 2 of Oxidant | Engine’s BoxSet Series. I’m proud to have my work appearing alongside that of such luminaries as José Angel Araguz, Dorothy Chan, John Sibley Williams and others.

At $12, the BoxSet is a steal, featuring ten poets, each with 10-15 pages of poetry. Where else can you purchase ten discrete collections at that price?

* * *

 

Letter to Wright from Between Gusts

Dear Tami: The wind here speaks an undiscovered language:
diffident, it lurks in the background, stuttering, fingering
everything, shifting directions, mocking us, barely noticeable
until it gets pissed off and BLOWS! Then, shit happens. Pickle
jars appear in purses. Love notes remain unwritten. Shingles
flap across the lawn and idiots are elected to office (nothing new,
I know). When I was a kid I marveled at those fortunates who
lived under the same roof for years, for decades, entire lives, while
my family rolled around the globe, collecting vaccination scars
like postcards or nesting dolls. How interesting, I thought then,
to know and be known, to avoid the perpetual newcomer’s
path. Having shared this house with my wife and various dogs,
birds, rodents, insects and arachnids for thirty-three years, I now
know this – home is not a stationary edifice. No cornerstone
defines it any better than fog rubbing the juniper’s tired back,
or courting mayflies announcing warmth’s arrival in their brief
pre-death interludes. Desire is a feckless mistress; after obtaining
the prize, we miss the abandoned and wonder what might have
been. When you arrive at your new town remember this: no one
is stranger to you than yourself. I speak from experience, having
absorbed differences at one end only to watch them emerge
hand-in-hand at the other, like newborn twins or nearly forgotten
reminders of an uncle’s kindness in a year of typhoons and sharp
replies and rebuilt lives. Home is a smile, a lover’s sleepy touch
at 3 a.m., or the secret knock between childhood friends reunited
after decades. It lives in soft tissue, not steel, and breathes water
and air, flame and soil and everything between. But it can’t exist
without your mind and body lugging it around. I would like to
tell you what the wind is saying, but it’s singing different tunes
these days, and my translation skills begin and end in that still
place between gusts, floating in the twilit air like so many empty
pockets. These are the only words I have. Not much to hang a hat
on, and I apologize for my shortcomings and inability to expound
with clarity. I speak in poetry, but mean well. May your moons
be bright and your winds wild yet gentle, even if you can’t fathom
their meaning. I’ll keep trying if you will. All the best, Bob.

 

 

“Letter to Wright from Between Gusts” was published at The Lake in August 2017. Many thanks to editor John Murphy for accepting this piece, and to T.S. Wright for inspiring it.

 

As I Think Of Kelp, How It Lies In The Shallows

Read Lynne Burnett’s “As I Think of Kelp, How It Lies in the Shallows.” One of the loveliest poems I’ve read this year!

Lynne Burnett

IMG_1700Here’s a pic of my poem as it appears in the entirely wonderful print journal: Crosswinds Poetry, Volume IV, 2019. Many thanks to the editors for including it in their spring issue!

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The Garden

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The Garden

But what of this notion
of the romantic?

It rained last night.
I could smell it

before it fell,
each drop a perfect

sphere until the final
moment. This

is fact, impractical but
lovely for its truth.

 

* * *

Initially posted here in January of 2014, the poem was published many years ago (30?) as a poetry postcard offered by the literary journal Amelia. I admit to being wrong about the shape of raindrops. But hey, they start out spherical…