RO

Ro

When this note fades
will it join you in that place
above the sky
or below the waves
of the earth’s plump
body? Or will it
circle back, returning to
my lips and this
hollow day
to aspire again?

 

 

Note: Ro designates the fingering required to produce a particular note on the shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. In this case, closing all holes.

 

Emptying Haibun

 

Emptying Haibun

Waiting, I open myself but nothing enters. Even music’s comfort avoids me, preferring calmer ports or perhaps another’s wind choices. I drop the weighted cord through the flute, pull it, and watch the cloth ease out. Some days pain drags behind me no matter what words emerge, what phrases follow. Last night brought the season’s first fireflies. This wall of books grows taller each day.

exhaling, I note

smudges in the sky —

oh, dirty window

 

Scarecrow Pretends

scarecrowfield

Scarecrow Pretends

How may I claim another’s earth for myself? My perpetual
stance invites occlusion of the senses and a certain disregard
for dignity; I flap in the breeze and bits of me scatter across
the fields. Sze asks if we know a bird’s name in ten
languages do we know any more about the bird. I say no,
but I am a species of stitched remnants and expectation,
a race of one. Genderless, my hollow name holds no secrets,
no history. If I called myself Hudson would anyone recognize
my stuffing for what it is not? What flows through my clothing
but rags, straw, the useless and unwanted. Insects and their feces.
The unearned, the unwarranted. The underclass. Folly. Design.
Gift by delusion. Does attracting more crows than I deter negate
my existence? And which am I? A river? A man? An effigy, one
perception, or another? I do not frighten, but welcome. Speak
louder, that we may ignore our insignificance, our true names.

 

 

“Scarecrow Pretends” was published in The Slag Review in January 2017, and a few months later was mentioned in an article in the Long River Review’s blog: “Scarecrow Pretends: Robert Okaji’s Metallurgy.

 

 

 

Recording of “My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar”

 

 

“My Mother’s Ghost Sits Next to Me at the Hotel Bar” was first published in The Lake in December 2018.

 

Chilled Soba

Chilled Soba

I am not
philosophical
today,

but hunger
concerns me.
Oh, not

real hunger
but a desire
to consume.

Afternoon
chews morning.
Evening

swallows afternoon.
Morning digests
night. And I,

slurping chilled
soba with
pickled ginger

and scallion,
wonder which verb
my days will choose.

 

 

“Chilled Soba,” first appeared in Kikwetu: A Journal of East African Literature in November 2018. I am grateful to the editors for accepting my poem.

 

 

Genealogy Dream


Genealogy Dream

To recall but not recall: family, the swift curve
of evolution’s arc. One moment your knuckles
scrape the earth’s surface, and the next you’re
pinpointing mortar fire by satellite phone. Or,
having plowed the field by hand, you fertilize
with human dung (no swords in this hovel),
only to wake into a dream of high rises and
coffee served steaming by a blushing ingenue
who morphs into an uncle, killed in China
on the wrong side of the war, leaving his
sister still mired in grief six decades later
under the Texas sun. On this end of memory’s
ocean, we know poverty and its engendered
disrespect, neighbors’ children warned not
to play with you, for fear that the family’s
lack of nickels would rub off and contaminate,
that your belly’s empty shadow might spread
down the unpaved streets and envelop even
those who don’t need to share a single egg
for dinner. Years later the son will celebrate
his tenth year by suffering the indignity of
a bloody nose and a visit to the principal’s
office, a gift of the sixth grader who would
never again employ “Nip” to disparage
someone, at least not without looking over
his shoulder in fear of small fists and quiet
rage. Which half measures harder? In one
hand, steel. In the other, water. I pour green
tea on rice and recall days I’ve never lived.

 

“Genealogy Dream” was first published in August 2018  in Issue 4 of Lost River literary magazine. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for taking this piece.

Glass (Recording)

 

“Glass” is the third part of the first poem in I Have a Bird to Whistle (7 Palinodes), my new chapbook.

The book is available here to U.S. residents for $7.50, shipping included.

Non-U.S. purchasers can order it directly from me by emailing aBirdtoWhistle@yahoo.com.