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.

Self-Portrait as Compost

 

Self-Portrait as Compost

Beneath the surface find warmth,
the fruit of decay and mastication,
of layered mixes and intermingled
juices. Disintegrated or whole,
still I strive to speak. Bits of me
meld, to be absorbed slowly; I
process and am processed: here,
within the pepper bush’s deep red
berries, there among the dianthus.
Scattered, deliberately placed,
having been, I shall emerge again,
forever changed, limitless, renewed.

 

* * *

 

“Self-Portrait as Compost” was first published in Issue 125 of Right Hand PointingThank you to editors Dale Wisely, Laura M. Kaminski, F. John Sharp and José Angel Araguz for taking this piece.

 

 

Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket

 

Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket

Dear Daniel: How fortunate we are to tap into this medium of ether
and zeros and ones and all the combinations employed in our paperless
context. I am drawn to the concept of text as textile, as an entity
woven into the fabric of communication. Who knew that simple lines,
dots, dashes and squiggles would someday depict so well our
abstract beginnings and fingered desires, from counted goats and
jars of oil to the tattoo on a beloved’s inner thigh. The gap between
thought and graphic representation, whether on paper or glowing
screen, seems heightened these days, in spite of their ubiquitous
presences. I scratched my name onto the frozen creek’s surface,
only to watch it subsume as the mercury rose. I report this only
because you’ve scribed too well that feeling of treading on uncertain
surfaces, of words expanding in meaning and dragging us along
separate byways, fork into fork, under and through what we
never considered. That is our fate – to emerge from the pocket,
folded, wrinkled and smudged, smelling of makkoli and fish
markets and unwritten phrases stored in rice jars, our personal
creases expanding as we inspect the characters found there, some
crimped, others elongated, still others nearly invisible but apparent
through indentation. Translate these and what have you but a history
of glorious failures and unfelt victories in marks, on white,
somehow of note, if only to oneself. Success is a stranger’s smile,
an omelet cooked to order and eaten with gusto. It pulses
in the doing, in the unsteady drip from the faucet with a desiccated
washer, and the ink staining the page symbol by line. I know only
what I know, which ain’t much, but I keep trying to learn, to
cobble together these odd symbols into assemblages greater than
myself. As if anyone would notice. Say hello to the marred, the
cracked and disheveled of Jeju, and I’ll return the favor from
my hideaway in the Texas hills. As always, believe. Bob.

 

“Letter to Marshall from the Scarecrow’s Pocket” first appeared on Vox Populi in July 2018. I am grateful to Michael Simms for publishing this piece (and others).

 

 

Poem Up at Book of Matches

 

My poem “Letter to Hamrick from the Century of the Invalidated” has been published in the inaugural issue of Book of Matches Thank you, editors Kelli Allen and Nicholas Christian, for taking this piece. This is a fantastic new litmag, featuring such luminaries as Clare L. Martin, Eric Pankey, Jeff Santossuosso, Kelli Russell Agodon, Jack Bedell, Megan Wildhood, Lauren Camp and others. Try it, you’ll like it!

 

 

 

Firewood

firewood 

 

Firewood

For two years the oak
loomed, leafless.
We had aged
together, but somehow
I survived the drought
and ice storms, the
regret and wilt,
the explosions within,
and it did not.

I do not know
the rituals of trees,
how they mourn
a passing, or if
the sighs I hear
betray only my own
frailties, but even
as I fuel the saw and
tighten the chain,
I look carefully
for new growth.

 

chain saw

“Firewood” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second.

 

Earth Keeps Spinning

 

Earth Keeps Spinning

What book
do I pull from the shelf
in this hour
marking my friend’s
return to that light-drenched

inkling before everything
collapses?

Which title, which
weight shall I
covet? What
do we hold if not
each other?

Being no one, I cannot say.
The earth keeps spinning
even as I walk
to the mailbox,
anticipating new words.

He cannot read these lines.

I do not write them.

 

* * *

“Earth Keeps Spinning” was first published by Red River Review in August 2018.

 

 

Poem Up at Panoply

 

My poem “Spider” has been published in Issue 17 of Panoply. Many thanks to editors Andrea, Jeff and Ryn for including this piece, and for supporting my work over the past five years. I am truly grateful.

 

 

 

 

The End of Something

 

The End of Something

I would never pin this silence
to a board, but her anger tempers
sunset, and my response remains
contained. The paper stars
I nailed to the bookcase rustle
when the door opens. She
swallows wine, I sip tea
and offer no explanations.

 

 

“The End of Something”  first appeared in Volume 3 of Lamplit Underground. Thank you, Janna Grace, for taking these pieces.

Lamplit Underground is a beautifully illustrated publication. Please take a look!

 

Worms

 

 

Worms

Yesterday’s cored apple buzzes with light,
another vessel stored in sadness.

I have swallowed vows.

I have replaced air with earth
and enjoyed tongued flesh.

To think is to live. To live is to delay.

Burrowing through the soil’s rich
decay, this body,

accepted. Absorbed.

 

 

“Worms” was first  published in Rue Scribe in September 2018.

 

Gulf

gulf

 

Gulf
for M.V.

Which looms wider, its sky or water? The birds, here, too,
reconvene in greater streaks. This morning I stomped around
Paisano, examining the grasses and soil, the rocks and various
configurations of clouds, and listened to experts discuss
prescribed burns and how the land’s contours can determine
sequence and efficacy. The mockingbird whose territory
we occupy has disappeared. Perhaps he’s just moved on.
I heard a red-bellied woodpecker yesterday, but never saw it,
and of course the rattlers at the ranch are still underfoot, just
less apparent this time of year. I looked closely, as always,
but never spied one. What else did I miss? The rich people
on the bluffs bulldoze habitat, poison creeks and erect their
Italianate villas, caring not a whit for the breeding warblers
or the landscape, although they might pony up a few bucks
for an environmental charity if sucked-up to properly. Given
a choice between the two, I’d pick the snakes every time;
they don’t smile or offer spiked drinks and stories of their
conquests, and usually warn before striking. Even a minor
deity might take offense and crack open a new fault in the
earth between this place and theirs, widening it by inches
with each presumption, every falsehood, whether shaded
in unrelated facts or illogic, until that shifting space could
be spanned solely by a bridge planked with truth and good
manners, and, yes, by mutual consent. Looking back, I
find many examples of these bridges collapsing in utero,
but we keep trying. Your story of the gulf coast storm
reminded me of weeks spent on calm water, and seeing,
no matter where I turned, blue meeting blue, from horizon
to horizon, the sky never broken by bird or cloud, born
anew each day, always looking between, never down.

 

 

“Gulf” was published in West Texas Literary Review in March 2017.