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.

White Mules and a Column of Smoke

vinyl

 

White Mules and a Column of Smoke

I am thinking of a place I’ve never seen or visited,
much like Heaven or Jot ‘Em Down, Texas, but with better
beverages and the advantage of hindsight and seasoning,
a glance back or to the peripheral, with a side of memory
and sliced, pickled jalapeños topping a pile of imagination.

And how do we so clearly remember what never occurred?
That book I read in 1970 was first published three years
later. A drowned childhood acquaintance ordered a beer
and sat next to me at a party in college. The open fields
I recall from the garden walls in France, where homes stood.

If only we carried with us slide shows or grooved vinyl
to trace back our lives – photos and recordings of those daily
remembrances – detailed notes indexed on cards, or data
embedded in our palms and accessed by eye twitches.
Would such evidence improve our lives?

Which filters shutter moments and thoughts, twist them
into balloon animals we no longer recognize? False
accusations and convictions aside, can we trust what we
know to be true? That oak stands where it has for four
decades. I bleed when cut. The sky still leers above us.

 

 

“White Mules and a Column of Smoke” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge. I am grateful to Natalie Butler, who sponsored the poem and whose photo inspired me.

 

Privilege

 

Privilege

Every hour becomes another.

Surrendering minutes, accepting
gain, which gravities restrain us?

Strong coffee, books. A smile.

Such imponderables – the measured
digit, starlife, an unmarked sheet of
paper fluttering to the floor.

Sometimes the lights go out
and we wonder when they’ll return,
not if. Or the laborer misinterprets
a statement and stains the carpet.

There but for the grace…
Anything can happen, and frequently does,

but we open the door and step out, unhindered.

 

“Privilege” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second, available for order now via Amazon.com and Finishing Line Press.

One Day I’ll Market Your Death

prickly

 

One Day I’ll Market Your Death

Do not mistake this phrase for one contiguous with threat.

Even its flower knows the theory of attractive quality.

An ideal medium for cochineal production, the prickly pear
shelters a host of creatures we seldom caress.

Which displays greater motility, the cactus or the cochineal?

Life-cycle of attributes, packaging, excitement, the unknown.

In the Aztec language, the word meant prickly pear blood.
The insects’ bodies and eggs yield carminic acid, which mixed with

aluminum or calcium salts yields the red dye.

Reaching for substance is neither metaphor nor effect. Sessile

parasite: carmine. The product of Dactylopius coccus
became the second most valued resource in Mexico, behind silver.

Opportunism unveiling itself, revealed, or, layered greed.

What appears to be fungus is wealth.

One-dimensional / attractive / indifferent. We look together
through the window and observe our separate selves.

 

dead

This poem originally appeared in a slightly different form in Otoliths, and was included in my chapbook length work, The Circumference of Other, published in IDES: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks, by Silver Birch Press.

 

Staircase at Fifteen

staircase

 

Staircase at Fifteen

Ascending, her centrifugal
influence captures me

and I follow,
breathless,
witless, wordless,

despite all longing
and shared

discretions, in spite
of the thundering
pulse
and the incessant
demand to act
or run.

She pauses, looks
down, sees
nothing.

Suddenly freed,
spinning off
and slowing down,
shrinking,

far below, on equal
footing but so
apart,

never to meet
in truth, unable
to define direction or

motive, I remain
fixed as she moves
higher, far away, close

but up,
always up.

 

planetarium

 

Recording of Self-Portrait with Knife

file2771300036063

 

Self-Portrait with Knife

Lacking benefit of prayer or belief,
it slips through flesh,

praising its temerity. Or,
parting the onion’s core, reclaims
the right to weep.

How many nights have we shared
these pleasures? I smooth the blade

with steel, listening to the fine hum.

 

 

“Self-Portrait with Knife” is included in my micro-chapbook Only This, available for free download from Origami Poems Project.