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.

Featured American Poet at The High Window!

Stephanie L. Harper is keeping pretty good company lately. The last American poet featured at The High Window was the 13th poet laureate of the U.S., Ted Kooser!


My poems, “Brave,” “There is This,” “Anatomy of Hope,” and “Moon Cake” are now up in the winter 2019 edition of The High Window, a fantastic online journal hailing from the U.K.! Thank you to editor David Cooke for the incredible thrill and honor of hosting me as this issue’s Featured American Poet! 

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When to Say Goodbye (with recording)




When to Say Goodbye

 If all goes well it will never happen.
The dry grass in the shade whispers

while the vines crunch underfoot,
releasing a bitter odor. A year ago

I led my dog to his death, the third
in five years. How such counting

precedes affection, dwindles ever
so slowly, one star winking out after

another, till only the morning gray
hangs above us, solemn, indefinite.

Voiceless. If I could cock my head
to howl, who would understand? Not

one dog or three, neither mother nor
mentor, not my friend’s sister nor her

father and his nephews, the two boys
belted safely in the back seat. No.

I walk downhill and closer to the creek,
where the vines are still green.

In the shade of a large cedar, a turtle
slips into the water and eases away.


* * *


“When to Say Goodbye,” drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, was published by Oxidant | Engine in May 2017, and subsequently nominated for a Best of the Net 2017 award.


From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Kanji


From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Kanji

In the evening I pour wine to celebrate
another day’s survival. My motions:
up to down, left to right. Glass

from cabinet, wine to mouth.
And then I return to the page.
The character for stone, ishi,

portrays a slope with a stone
at its base, and I take comfort
in knowing that as my knee aches

at the thought of climbing, ishi exists
in descent only. A volcano belches,
producing hi, fire, rising above the

cone, while earth, tsuchi, lies firm
beneath the shoots pushing up,
outward, and ame, rain,

consists of clouds and dotted
lines and the sky above. But if
wind is made of insects and

plums, do I assemble new meaning
without fact or wisdom, form
or assumed inflection, left to

down, up to right? Consider water,
its currents, its logic and needs.
Consider truth. This is how I think.


* * *

“From Left to Right I Ponder Politics and Kanji” appeared in Bonnie McClellan’s International Poetry Month celebration in February 2017.


Poem Up at Mason Street Review’s Community Room


My poem “Dreaming That My Legs Won’t Move, I Think of Debts” is up at Mason Street Review’s Community Room PageI’m grateful to the Newark Public Library and the editors of Mason Street for taking this piece.




Michael Simms: Going Deaf

“Going Deaf” by Michael Simms is a great poem. Make that GREAT. It’s big in all the good ways, and quiet where it needs to be. Read it. Your day will improve.

Vox Populi

Now is the time for drowsy tanagers. -– E.S.


First I lost the tick of snowflakes hitting glass.

Then the sound of the cat’s tongue running over her fur.

It used to be I could almost hear her tail moving,

The muscles of the back stretching, the yawn going to a different register…

I lost the buzz of the fly, the distant hammer of my neighbor fixing his roof,

The whine of wind in the rafters and the exact words you speak

As you walk away, rooms opening to other rooms, houses full

Of music I’ll never hear as I walk by. The tinny laughter

Of television sitcoms I don’t miss,

Nor bus-farts nor gunshots of the cops

But Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith… missing a few notes

Means losing the whole song, the way all the beads

Fall to the floor when the string breaks.


What I miss…

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Galveston, 1900



Galveston, 1900

First the wind, then a tide like no other
uprooting the calm,

a visage tilted back in descent
as if listening for the aftermath.

And later, the gardener’s lament
and the building’s exposed ribs,

light entering the eternal
orchard, nine children tied to a cincture.

Not even the earth could retain its bodies,
and the sea remanded those given to its care.




“Galveston, 1900” first appeared here in January 2015. Last February it was accepted for publication in an anthology to be published in 2020, but alas, I’ve just been informed that the publisher is unable to move forward on it. Such is the literary life.


The Sky Withholds


The Sky Withholds

   night. In this event I breathe alone, one entity hoarding
space. And to where do shadows retreat under moonless skies?
I sit among the cedars and mourn my life’s dogs. Dark memory,
raven nights layered upon days, trailing more memories, white
after black. We regard their appeal, their limitless reach into
other systems and the fissures between thought and action,
dawn and closure.

“The Sky Withholds” was first published in Bright Sleep in July 2017.