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.

Door Harp

candle

Door Harp

tear-shaped or is
it the inviolable
form of the

candle’s flame ever
changing but constant
in its own

presence that being
momentary or fixed
as a loved

one’s death I
listen and hear
only three notes

each one solitary
and aloof yet
of one purpose

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Yet another piece from the eighties. It first appeared here in November 2015.

Kites

string

Kites

Will viewpoint shift with my spine’s slow
compression, or will this

window admit only true images
in the shortened days to come?

I pencil phrases on bone-shaped kites
and release them to the afternoon.

Call them prayers, name them moans.
Each string is a regret freed, a separate

skeleton, let go. My two selves shudder
in the attempt. I await the perfect breeze.

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“Kites” first appeared here in July 2016.

The Military Industrial Complex’s CPAs Never Sleep

 avocado

The Military Industrial Complex’s CPAs Never Sleep

We so seldom bury people at sea
in weighted shrouds,
preferring instead sealed
containers or ashes
mixed with concrete.

Little girls skip
down the street,
giggling, unaware of their
value on the open
market. Dollars, oil.
Weapons. All fungible.

On the forgotten shelf,
the avocado’s flesh
blackens inside
its withering armor.
How is too much
never enough?

Targets based on
possibilities, innuendo,
cost-benefit analysis:
three men and a camel,
wedding parties,
hospitals, homes.
Schools.

When morning comes,
they’re still awake,
collating damage, counting
opportunities, massaging
sums, ignoring cost,
harvesting their rotted fruit.

military

This first appeared here in September 2016.

Variations on a Theme

darkedinburgh_shadow

Variations on a Theme

1. The Long Night

We envy the shadow its attributes, its willingness to subside,
but what of its flesh?

I lay in the field and wept.

Think of the fragrance, the moist leaves
enveloping the still

warm body. In retrospect, I realize that I should never have left, that air
returns to voided space despite all attempts to disavow

light, that wind and rain and soil alike filter through the chest’s
cavity, that stones may bear one’s touch in perpetuity.

At nineteen, death had gifted nothing to my world.
At twenty, little else remained.

So close, so lovely.

 

2. The Loneliness of Shadows

Light collapsing around a point. The two-headed flower.

In my dreams, no one speaks.

Not the thing itself, the bud bursting forth, petals ablaze with color,
but rather change: the process reinforced.

Sleep seldom shows such kindness.

Or its fruit, redolent of sun and rain, withdrawn and shriveled,
and finally, ingested.

Yesterday I woke damp but unafraid.

 

3. Alchemy

Stones never talk, but they rise from the earth, appearing as if by invitation.

The way silence lines an unfilled
grave, which is to say as below

so above, an infinite murmur open to the night.
And other notions: transpiration.

Waste.
Sublimation. Calcination and burning.

At times I have withdrawn
like water from the air’s

body, fearful yet reckless in the act.
That evening the moon flickered and the shadows lay at our feet,

and all the words we never framed,
the bitters our tongues could not know, the wasted

music and abandoned caresses, those words,
sighed into the ground, leaving you adrift, alone.

But how else might one transform darkness to light?
Or the reverse.

huey_ef

 

This originally appeared in Boston Poetry Magazine in April, 2014, and was first posted here in July of 2015.

 

End of the Road

photo

 

End of the Road (2002)

Neither expected nor sought, truth arrives.
One phrase, a minute turn of the

wrist, and the beginning reverses itself, becomes
vessel versus point, illuminating

the reach: one sign, two paths. The agave.
How far we’ve come to affect this place.

Last season the flowers were gray and we knew nothing.
Even the stones quivered with laughter.

And then it rained. And the creeks rose, and the bedrock
appeared as if to say your efforts lack

substance. Look underfoot. There lies the truth.
Neither expected nor sought, it arrives.

 

eotr

Still Hands (Cento)

image

 

Still Hands (Cento)

I let it burn, rooted as it is. Now
nothing else keeps my eyes

in the cloud – get close to a star,
and there you are, in the sun.

What about all the little stones,
sitting alone in the moonlight?

Silence complicates despair.
I have believed so long in the magic

of names and poems,
and I know that you would take

the still hands to dryness and
loose rocks, where the light

re-immerses itself. It’s not the story
I want. We cannot live on that.

 

* * *

Credits:
Sharon Wevill, Julia de Burgos, Francis Ponge, Mary Oliver,
Alberto de Lacerda, Robert Hass, HD, Jacques Dupin, Francesca Abbate, George Oppen.

image

Gaza

file00098429292

Gaza

We presume affliction by census,
whereas light

requires no faith.
Is the roofless house a home? When you call
who answers? The vulture

spreads its wings
but remains on post. Shifting,
I note minute of angle, windage. No

regrets, only tension. Breathe in. Exhale.
Again.

***

“Gaza” first appeared here in July, 2014, and is included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

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2,000 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (and I still can’t resist)

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The subject of Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated, these four lines have not suffered from lack of translation. Gary Snyder’s rendition is beautiful – some might say perfect – as is Burton Watson’s. And then there’s Octavio Paz’s version. Yet I persist…

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com (which differs from that offered by Eliot Weinberger):

Empty hill not see person
Yet hear person voice sound
Return scene enter deep forest
Duplicate light green moss on

And my take:

Deer Sanctuary

There’s no one on this empty hill,
but I hear someone talking.
Sunlight trickles into the forest,
reflecting onto the green moss.

Time and again Weinberger objects to an explicit first person observer, but to my ear it flows better. I’ve tried to retain a sense of precision in observation and at least a hint of duality, and believe that I’ve succeeded, at least in part. Having carried this poem with me for more than two decades, only now have I felt up to the task of adapting it. I chose the title “Deer Sanctuary” because in my neck of the woods spaces enclosed by “game fences” are generally meant for hunting. We Texans do love our venison. But the poem, to me, is ultimately peaceful. Hence my title.

I was flattered when Sam Hamill contacted me after this first appeared in 2014. We had a brief exchange about the sun and moss and academics that I’ll cherish forever.

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This originally appeared on the blog in April 2014.