I have a bird to whistle

Gary Gautier reviews my latest chapbook!

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Review of Robert Okaji’s chapbook of poems, I Have a Bird to Whistle (Luminous Press, 2019, 27 pages), by Gary Gautier

Beautifully crafted, each poem is an uneasy marriage of image and concept, of fullness and emptiness. Each is suggestive without yielding a fixed meaning. Meaning, like the sense-rich images, follows geometric curves through space to the vanishing point. The logic moving through each poem is like an extended haiku concatenation, jumping from one discrete image or cluster to another sometimes unrelated one. So far, so good. But the discontinuity, suggestive as it is, is sometimes too much, and I wish Okaji had given us a more stable throughline to hang onto as we move across the flow of language. When I set these prose-poem paragraphs against Okaji’s pre-existing work (see his blog here), for my taste he flourishes better with the more traditional poetic line structure. Still, those…

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April 15

Read C’s poem, and watch the ashes flutter away…

OPTIONAL POETRY

They told me how one architect
cast himself as St Thomas

to look out over
the rooftops

in perpetuity–
a sentinel of the Île,

to dawns, the rains,
those low gold winter sunsets,

the Seine grown vein-dark
by evening, bridge spans

reflected to form
perfect spheres of sky–

transient beauty,
it was a later addition,

the apostles on the spire,
nothing lasts forever

as it stands
and nothing stands forever

but they took down
those statues

a few days ago
for what little that is worth

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Variations on a Theme

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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.

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

 

Listening to Cicadas, I See Charlottesville (Ghazal, with recording)

 

 

Listening to Cicadas, I See Charlottesville (Ghazal)

Shedding one coat, you live in the red, apart
from the rest. Never together, forever apart.

In this sun-drenched field, the cracks drill deeper,
wider, dribbling soil and small lives, expanding, apart.

What falls truer than any words released from this man?
Once divided, never again to touch, always apart.

The electric shrill fluctuates pitch, in unison. Hundreds
of tymbals, shredding dusk, now together, then apart.

You narrow your eye to a slit, but still see the entire
spectrum. Wing clicks, stridulation. Whole yet apart.

Shearing syllables, I learn the language of half-truth.
What is my name? I reach for that fragment. It falls apart.

 

 

Scarecrow Sees

Scarecrow Sees

Da Vinci maintained that sight relies on the eye’s
central line, yet the threads holding my
ocular buttons in place weave through four
holes and terminate in a knot. My flying friends
perceive light in a combination of four colors,
unlike the farmer, who blends only three. The
octopus knows black and white but blushes
to escape predators, while I remain fixed,
evading no one. Certainly my sense is more
vision than sight, and not the result of nerve
fibers routing light. Crows choose colors
when asked, but a certain shade of yellow
eludes them. And who would hear, above
the flock’s clamor, my claim to see this world
as it is? Grayscale, monochrome, visual
processing and perceptual lightness measures
mean little to one whose space accumulates
in uncertain increments – what is a foot to an
empty shoe? If I painted, which hues would
prefer my attempts, which would distract or
invade my cellulosic cortex, resulting in
fragmentation or blindness? Fear is not
limited to the sighted alone. I look out over
the field and perceive the harmonious
interaction of soil and root, leaf and sun,
the beauty of atmospheric refraction and
the wonder sprouting daily around me. Then
as one entity the crows explode into the blue,
leaving me alone with the shivering stalks,
questioning my place and purpose, awaiting
the next stray thought, a spark, a lonely
word creeping through this day’s demise.

 

This was written during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 Challenge, and was published by The High Window in December 2016.

 

Light and Dark and Light Again (crawlspace)

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Light and Dark and Light Again (crawlspace)

Not hopeless, but without hope. If I could
capture my shadow, would I
imprison it in a cell of light

or release it to roam free among the dense cedars,
knowing always that I might betray myself again?
And other repetitions. Doorways beyond other

doorways leading to more openings, like
mouths releasing words in the random
silence, awaiting their return.

What lives under the house but another
darkness, another tale of contrast

and spent energies? Answers move swiftly
from point to point, refusing to be
pinned down. The questions remain.

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This first appeared here in February 2015.

How to Write a Poem (with recording)

 

How to Write a Poem

Learn to curse in three languages. When midday
yawns stack high and your eyelids flutter, fire up

the chain saw; there’s always something to dismember.
Make it new. Fear no bridges. Accelerate through

curves, and look twice before leaping over fires,
much less into them. Read bones, read leaves, read

the dust on shelves and commit to memory a thousand
discarded lines. Next, torch them. Take more than you

need, buy books, scratch notes in the dirt and watch
them scatter down nameless alleys at the evening’s first

gusts. Gather words and courtesies. Guard them carefully.
Play with others, observe birds, insects and neighbors,

but covet your minutes alone and handle with bare hands
only those snakes you know. Mourn the kindling you create

and toast each new moon as if it might be the last one
to tug your personal tides. When driving, sing with the radio.

Always. Turn around instead of right. Deny ambition.
Remember the freckles on your first love’s left breast.

There are no one-way streets. Appreciate the fragrance
of fresh dog shit while scraping it from the boot’s sole.

Steal, don’t borrow. Murder your darlings and don’t get
caught. Know nothing, but know it well. Speak softly

and thank the grocery store clerk for wishing you
a nice day even if she didn’t mean it. Then mow the grass,

grill vegetables, eat, laugh, wash dishes, talk, bathe,
kiss loved ones, sleep, dream, wake. Do it all again.

 

* * *

“How to Write a Poem,” is included in Indra’s Net: An International Anthology of Poetry in Aid of The Book Bus, and has appeared on the blog as well.

All profits from this anthology published by Bennison Books will go to The Book Bus, a charity which aims to improve child literacy rates in Africa, Asia and South America by providing children with books and the inspiration to read them.

Available at Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)