# 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.

# Destined by Gravity to Fail, We Try

Destined by Gravity to Fail, We Try

Having fallen from the roof not once, but twice,
I verify that it is not the fall but the sudden stop that hurts.

The objectivist sense of the little: the and a, my house in this world.

Galileo postulated that gravity accelerates all falling bodies at the same rate.

While their etymologies differ, failure and fall share commonalities,
though terminal velocity is not one.

The distance between the glimpsed and the demonstrated.

Enthralled in the moment, Icarus drowned.

Rumor has it his plunge was due not to melting wax but to an improper mix
of rectrices and remiges: parental failure.

Thrust and lift. Drag. Resistance.

Acknowledgment of form in reality, in things.

When the produced drag force equals the plummeting object’s weight, the
object will cease to accelerate and will move at a constant speed.

To calculate impact force accurately, include the stopping distance in height.

Followed by long periods of silence.

# Home: Living Between

Home: Living Between

My younger self dwelled in shadows propelled by light.
Indigo to ebony, in variant shades.

Concealed in language and skin, surrounded by shelved words.
Departed friends. Grass grown tall or baked to a brittle yellow.

The central order of a life arranged in sequence, orbiting through mother,
father, sister and passers-by glancing through our windows.

A parachute of discomfort billowing in the blue.
Distance and uncertainty beyond the nuclear family.

Acknowledging the new, still I looked inward.
The house as structure, as symbol, but always impermanent, unattainable.

Not rejection, but a liminal sense of being, of place.
Faces changed, but books carried me from city to state to country.

Translated from three views and speaking in brushstrokes across the wall,
slowly filled from edge to center, layer upon layer.

Containment, conjunction, circumstance. Triangle to circle.
No headstones mark my locus, no place bears my name.

Borders, the threshold of shared lives.

* * *

“Home: Living Between” was originally published at Allegro Poetry Magazine.  Thank you, Sally Long, for taking this poem.

# The Ecstatics

The Ecstatics

Divisions and separations, a summing of consequences,
the brother whose ashes remained forever lost. Two cities
and their survivors’ shame. The loud, kind young man
whose words fell to the restaurant’s floor, unbidden.
What came next in the drift, untoward and misspent,
in the grammar of between? Darkness, suppressed.
Smoke. Pleasure and fear, unclothed.

“The Ecstatics” first appeared here in January 2016. It’s an odd piece, part of a larger sequence that I put on hold several years ago. Perhaps I’ll return to it someday.

# Story Up at Spoonie Magazine!

Article by Stephanie L. Harper:

Story Up at Spoonie Magazine!

A must read! Poignant and illuminating, and so true.

# Sunday, June

Sunday, June

Trying to give, I fail too often.
But this day we prepare for you
food that your beloved often cooked,
made with the ingredients of 19,000
nights and promises of more to come.
These potatoes. That beef, the fruit.
Simple, and yet so difficult to reproduce.
Even the recipe is incomplete. “Some
mayonnaise,” it says, then “mustard,”
but not whether dry or prepared, and
the amount is unclear. Yet the results
transport you to stronger days, to
the clear-eyed self and limitless
possibilities, meals on the table
at five o’clock, the satisfaction of work
well done, knowing that you have soared
but never beyond love’s touch, her
sleepy murmurs, morning coffee,
burnished histories and late cigarettes,
the tulips on the soil you’ll soon share.

“Sunday, June” first appeared in the print journal Nourish in March 2018.

# Hey, I’ve Won a Chapbook Contest!

I’m delighted to report that I’ve been named the winner of the 35th Annual Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Contest:

Slipstream is pleased to announce that the winner of our 2022 Poetry Chapbook Contest is Robert Okaji for his collection, “Buddha’s Not Talking.” The book will be published in late summer. All entrants in the contest will receive a free copy of the chapbook, along with a copy of the latest issue of Slipstream (Issue #42 Bread/Blood/Beats theme issue.

Robert Okaji lives in Indiana with his wife, stepson and cat. He holds a BA in history, served without distinction in the U.S. Navy, toiled as a university administrator, and no longer owns a bookstore. His honors include the 2021 riverSedge Poetry Prize, the 2021 Etchings Press Poetry Chapbook Prize, and the 1968 Bar-K Ranch Goat-Catching Championship.

Poet Robert Penick writes: “In an era of ego and agenda-based poetry, Robert Okaji ties us to the moment, the gesture, and the event. What few may understand is how important his commitment is to the truth. Okaji measures speed, spit, and distance, always taking the velocity of time into account before launching an image or forecast. And he never misses his target.”

I’ll post order links when available. Cover art by the inestimable Stephanie L. Harper. Author photo by Matthew Harper.

# The Geography of Silence

The Geography of Silence

1. Laundry drooping at midday.

2. She dreams off-key, in pastels.

3. With misunderstanding comes anger.

4. Mata! Mata! Again!

5.  Ashes crossing the ocean.

6.  Sweat, and the taste of separation.

7.  Reaching for past moons, she cries.

9.  Rice.

11. Inward, always. Inward.

.

# Mother’s Day (with recording)

Mother’s Day

The dog is my shadow and I fear his loss. My loss.
I cook for him daily, in hope of retaining him.

Each regret is a thread woven around the oak’s branches.
Each day lived is one less to live.

Soon the rabbits will be safe, and the squirrels.
As if they were not. One morning

I’ll greet an empty space and walk alone,
toss the ball into the yard, where it will remain.

It is Mother’s Day.
Why did I not weep at my mother’s grave?

I unravel the threads and place them around the dog.
The wind carries them aloft.

“Mother’s Day” was published in The Lake in July 2016, and last appeared here in May 2020. It is included in my recently published chapbook, My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m., available now from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

# Elegy

Elegy

I count more graves than people in my sleep,
but nothing turns more quickly

than an empty wind
in a place whose memory has died.

And all manner of departure: What you have left is you
without you
. As if it could be different, as if decades

could withdraw and draft a blueprint of motive and action,
returning them, returning you, to that point

across the sea where the ship has not yet arrived.
If you ask she will say it does not matter. If you ask.

2. Parentheses

To be within, yet without, as in the unuttered phrase.

It is time the stone made an effort to flower,

to render the void clear and resolute, the diction of

The language of silence, drawn near.

3. From the Other Side

Sometime becomes never and steps around a desolate corner,
and all we have left is our field

awash in stone, remnants of the unspoken.
I have no memory of you. Nor you, of me,

but the strands do not lie, and unraveled,
expose the imperfect blends

that compose my love. A leaky roof. The last word.
A pity to put up at all

but there is rain.

4. Another Night

Of all the hours which were the longest?
The earth trembled around me

and I lay still, bearing witness to
the uncertain malice of its

shrug, shoulders brought to
fore, then returned,

and finally, released. If,
after this half-century, words

what denial would issue?

Ashes, washing ashore.

5. Bridge

And seeing you only as the shadow of an

ending whose voice lies
in an uncommon past, how
may we recognize the very shape we share?

The bridge’s fate is loneliness,
knowing that one side

decries the other’s
call, that separation affords new light:

they are between
comfort and space, between words and a smile,

between nothingness and sorrow,
two points, beginning and end,

reaching, in opposition, towards each other.

Notes:

“What you have left is you without you” is from Edmond Jabes’s “At the Threshold of the Book” in The Book of Questions: Volume I, translated by Rosemary Waldrop.

“It is time the stone made an effort to flower” is from Paul Celan’s poem Corona,” included in Poems of Paul Celan translated by Michael Hamburger.

“A pity to put up at all but there is rain” is from Basho’s Back Roads to Far Towns, translated by Cid Corman and Kamake Susumu.

Albert Huffsticklers poem “Bridges” which appeared in The Balcones Review in 1987, begins “They are between…”

“Elegy” first appeared on Underfoot Poetry in October 2017.