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.

Trains

file0001582779533


Trains

1

In the marrowbone of night,
your song parts the fog.

I never knew the secrets entrusted there.

I never knew that cinders and steel
could lie so passionately

and still believe that the watchman’s hours
would evaporate and leave us scratching for more.

I have stolen time.

The windows remain closed and shuttered.
Even the wind turns away.

The track narrows.

You call.

Again.

2

Sometimes song seems the only respite,
the rhythm of clashing cars

and moments stretched beyond the next bend
to that point where light winks out.

We both know this lonely tunnel.

Payment is due.

I have always exited alone.

3

Another evening, and red smoke completes the horizon.

Your ribs stretch for distance,
and while I cannot see their end,
I know by sound
their lot.

Sing for me.
It is not
too close.

 

 

“Trains” was originally published in Lightning’d Press (Issue 8) in Spring of 2014, was reprinted on Aubade Rising in April, 2015, and has appeared here several times. It is also included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

track

Knots

knot

 

Knots

Who you are not seldom rises
beyond midnight’s

sum: one strand thrown over
another, looped through

and pulled taut, achieving
tension and a sour taste

at the back of your throat.
Everyone believes this

doesn’t bleed. I lock the
windows, draw the shades,

twist the cord. Even distracted,
nothing comes undone.

 

modern light MGD©

 

“Knots” first appeared here in June 2016.

 

Roof Charm

roofmoon

 

Roof Charm

What is home if not exile to the familiar?

A serrated kiss at the closet door.

We duck our heads and cook meals undercover,
the sun’s rays deflected.

And every relentless     day finds
our hands     wanting.

The black shawl, unfolded.
Wax melted on the whetstone.

You say stars shiver despite their light.

You say one hand      mirrors its mate’s      arc.

I say warmth flows through you, the roof     our sky.

 

glare

 

“Roof Charm” made its first appearance here in June 2016.

 

Forgotten

 

Forgotten

Is it simply forgotten
or not remembered?

My father coughs
through his days,

asking for answers
only his brother knows.

Some books are better
read from the end,

he says. I don’t know
what to do.

He tries to spell his name
but the letters elude him,

teetering between symbol
and thought and choice.

The chair tips over
when I lean too far back,

replacing memories
with hardwood

and a new bruise
coloring my thoughts.

This word, that one.
A face, the date.

Last Tuesday’s crumb.
The floor accepts us all.

 

* * *

“Forgotten” first appeared in ISACOUSTIC* in January 2018.

Ikebana

leaf on stone

 

Ikebana (You without You)

Between frames, between presence and negation, authority.

If your body lies in the earth, why are you here?

Limits admired and sought: the way of the flower.

I pluck leaves from the lower half to achieve balance.

Shape and line detach, yet comprise the whole.

My father, awake in his chair, mourns quietly.

A naked twig forms one point of the scalene triangle.

Starkness implies silence, resonates depth.

Heaven, earth, man, sun and moon invoke your absence.

As you trickle through the interval’s night.

 

* * *

Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangement.

chair

This first appeared on the blog in March 2016, and is included in my mini-digital chapbook, Interval’s Night, published by Platypus Press in December 2016, and available via free download.

 

I Danced with a Platypus Twenty Years Back

 

I Danced with a Platypus Twenty Years Back

Which is of course a metaphor pointing out
disparities in function and form, and the dangers
inherent in assumption: despite its cute appearance,
the male platypus delivers venom through an ankle
spur on a hind limb; samba with one at your own
peril. My friend wanted to build a catapult, but I
convinced him that trebuchets more efficiently
demolish walls. Instead, he experimented with atlatls,
before reverting to his favorite compound bow. The
fly swatter remains my weapon of choice, followed
closely by steel toe boots. I have yet to meet a scorpion
whose armor could withstand them, but I would never
stomp a platypus without first determining its intentions
and seeking mediation, perhaps through handwritten
correspondence. Pencils owe their origin to the lead
stylus, which eventually morphed into the wood-cased
graphite tool we now use. In his day, Thoreau was better
known for pencil-making than cabin-building. Arthritic
joints prevent me from writing by hand, but I saw lumber
when necessary. According to Ovid, Talos, nephew of
Daedalus, invented the saw, using either a fish jaw or spine
as the model. I look at my food before eating, but the
platypus dives with closed eyes, and locates meals by
detecting electric currents through its bill. In considering
form, I assume function. But we know what that means.

 

 

* * *

This was originally drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was published in Cacti Fur in November 2019. Many thanks to editor Jim Thompson for taking this poem, and to Kris B. for sponsoring the poem and providing the title.

Untitled from 1988 (with recording)

file2281274629261

This first appeared in 1988, in Aileron. At the time I was experimenting with movement and breath and line, and wrote quite a few of these meditations in this form, some more successful than others.

* * *

where breath begins
it ends consider
light its secret

structure the sense
of limit defined
if a hand

recalls what the
eye cannot which
is the source

of remembrance one
touches more deeply
or allows itself

to be touched
a difference only
in the approach

 

file9071336337066

 

Palinode (birds)

 

Palinode (birds)

Simplicity, as in the cloaca. One aperture for all: eggs,
urine, sperm, feces. The majority of birds copulate
by joining the openings of their cloacae (most male
birds lack penises). Nothing is for nothing.

Nothing is for nothing, but the ache of emptiness
bestows its own reward. That movement from outer
world to inner, to anima, to breath, to flight,
approaching heaven. Birds know the way.

Knowing the way, birds express our envy of the
boundless, testament to the unity of earth and sky,
instinct’s voice. We see feathers not as epidermal
outgrowths, but as emblems of what we forever seek.

As emblems of what we seek, crows exploit man’s
folly, exposing hidden truths. Thought and memory
recede, leaving us foundered. Altered consciousness,
flight, the space to believe, simplicity’s forms in one.

 

“Palinode (birds)” first appeared in slightly different form in Otoliths in fall 2016.