Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon

Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon

Dear Stephanie: No one connects here, and no matter
how resolutely we trudge forward, ignoring spinal fusions
and attacking hearts, the line skips lightly ahead, mocking us,
I think, in that way only the ineffable may claim. Looking
out, I see a lone wren, clouds filtering the stars, and strands
of barbed wire looped like question marks around cedar
stumps, punctuating the day’s greeting. No answers there,
only more inquiries blanching under the sun. But this
is my febrile landscape, not your lush green headed by
gray. Nothing matters, or, everything’s imperative.
In this gnarled season I can’t tell which, although
the vulture ripping into a squirrel carcass on my
suburban front lawn tells me something ain’t quite
right. Full or empty, the glass is still a glass, despite
my propensity for seeking more, whether cava or beer
or yes, enlightenment. I fear this reveals too much
about me, and wonder if I should draw the shade or
keep tugging it higher, admitting more light. Have you
ever noticed that half often amounts to less the closer
you get to it, each portion diminishing, divided by two,
and again, until only a thin shadow vaguely resembling
the original shape remains? Perhaps this is how we’re
meant to exit as failures on this field. The horizon’s
still there, red stroking green, clouds feathering in,
and maybe if we keep walking we’ll reach it in a sunburst
of doves and glittering red dahlias. Yeah, right. In the
meantime, let’s multiply our losses and sculpt another
morning truer than its source, stronger than its media. Our
optimism has already blown this joint. What else have we
got to lose? I remain, as ever, yours in insolence, Bob.

Originally penned in January 2017, “Letter to Harper from Halfway to the Horizon” was published in MockingHeart Review in May 2018. I’m reading with MockingHeart founder and editor-in-chief Clare L. Martin, along with Bessie Senette, at 7:00 this evening, October 20, at Malvern Books in Austin. Come on by, if you’re able!

2 Poems Up at Lost River Literary Magazine

My poems “Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void” and “Genealogy Dream” are live in Issue 4 of Lost River literary magazine. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for publishing these two.

Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

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Lament for Five White Cat (after Mei Yao-ch’en)

Five White cat always made sure
no rats gnawed my books,
but this morning Five White died.

On the river I offered up rice and fish,
and buried you in its lazy currents,
chanting my lament. I could never neglect you.

One time you caught a rat
and carried it squealing around the yard
to frighten all the other rats
and keep my cottage clear of them.

We’ve shared space aboard this boat,
and although the food is meager
it’s free of rat piss and droppings
because you were so diligent,
more so than any chicken or pig.

Some people speak highly of horses,
saying nothing compares to them or donkeys.
But we’re done with that discussion!

My tears prove it so.

* * *

The transliteration from Chinese-poems.com:

Self have 5 white cat
Rat not invade my books
Today morning 5 white die
Sacrifice with rice and fish
See off it at middle river
Incantation you not you neglect
Before you bite one rat
Hold in mouth cry around yard remove
Want cause crowd rat frightened
Thought will clear my cottage
From board boat come
Boat in together room live
Dry grain although its thin
Evade eat drip steal from
This real you have industriousness
Have industriousness surpass chicken pig
Ordinary person stress spur horse drive
Say not like horse donkey
Already finish not again discuss
For you somewhat cry

A Song Dynasty poet, Mei Yao-ch’en (or Mei Yaochen) died in 1060. His great poems live on.

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Parting from Wang Wei (after Meng Haoran)

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Parting from Wang Wei (after Meng Haoran)

These quiet days are ending
and now I must leave.

I miss my home’s fragrant grasses
but will grieve at parting – we’ve

eased each other’s burdens on this road.
True friends are scarce in life.

I should just stay there alone, forever
behind the closed gate.

* * *

“Parting from Wang Wei” is included in my micro-chapbook, No Eye But The Moon’s, available via free download at Origami Poems Project.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Quiet end what wait
Day day must go return
Wish seek fragrant grass go
Grieve with old friend separated
On road who mutual help
Understanding friend life this scarce
Only should observe solitude
Again close native area door

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Theory and Practice of Tension (duet for guitar and mandolin)

Aging Guitar

Theory and Practice of Tension (duet for guitar and mandolin)

By compromise I mean the gap between desire and
ability, the difference between mist and fog, cold air
and warmer water. Held taut, the line remains constant,
reciprocated energy observing Hooke’s Law. Though
inadequate in our attempts, in singing we often express
more than words convey, a bridging of music and lyric,
the extension commensurable to the force, as in the
bended A string trilling at dusk, words shimmering
nearby: equilibrium in thought and deed, in body and
intent. And what is the yield strength of need, of want
and notion? The fertile tremolo, plying note upon note,
peace through constant velocity. Presuming failure,
I limit my attentions and compress. When the sum of all
forces equals zero, we attain balance, owing no one.
Proportional to distance: the strings and bridge.

***

My friend Chuck and I get together on occasion to make noise with guitar and mandolin. We are not musicians. But we laugh, sing tunes written for better voices, drink good beer, and enjoy ourselves. Occasionally the sound we achieve transcends our abilities. I live for those moments.

Mando 810

“Theory and Practice of Tension” first appeared here in April 2016.

Letter from Austin

perfection

Letter from Austin

Michael, when you say moons do you see
cold stone floating in the firmament
or phrases frayed in the mouth and spat on paper?
And does the Spanish moon simmer at a similar
pace to mine or yours? Which embers blush brighter?
But let’s turn to estuaries, to salt and clamor and gun-
running poets and interrupted words sold in stalls
between parenthetical gates, to incomparable cavas
and the deterioration of envy and intervening years.
Or perhaps mislaid passion – a friend claims love
is merely a bad rash, that we scratch and scratch
and inflame but never truly cure what ails us. Sounds like
politics to me. Or sports. And business. Or neighborhoods.
On my street people should cook and play music together,
laugh, raise chickens and read good books. They should
brew beer, swap tomatoes, recite each other’s poetry and sing
in tune. But we’re different here, preferring instead electronics
glowing in dimly lighted rooms. I reject this failure, as I also
reject the theory of centrifugal force spinning off the moon’s
body from the earth’s crust, preferring to imagine a giant
impact blasting matter into orbit around what morphed into the
earth, and somehow accreting the stuff into this orb we
sometimes worship. This, to me, is how good relationships
form: explosions of thought and emotion followed by periods
of accretion. But what I mean is I hope this finds you well
by the river of holy sacrament. Remember: brackish water
bisects our worlds. Turn. Filter. Embrace. Gotta run. Bob.

Originally published in Heron Clan 3, this first appeared on the blog in July 2015.

My friend Michael occasionally sends hand-written notes or letters to me, and I respond with poems. This is one. You might read some of his writing at Underfoot Poetry.

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Prentiss Moore, 1947-1998

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Prentiss Moore, 1947-1998

I’d been so busy with the bookstore that we’d not been in touch. I always thought we’d have time for that breakfast, for those drinks, for that laughter. I heard about his death only minutes before the memorial gathering was to begin. Stunned, and dressed in my standard bookseller’s uniform of jeans and wrinkled shirt, unshaven, I felt inadequate to the occasion, betrayed, embarrassed. The clear sky pressed uncomfortably close. How dare he die! Why did I not know? The ground shifted underfoot and I walked like a man underwater. I swatted at a buzzing wasp, not caring if it retaliated. And for the first time I realized that I, too, was dying. We all were. We all are. The gathering was lovely, memorable. Friends, family, acquaintances and even strangers spoke. I could not.

I once said that I hoped to become half the poet that Prentiss was. I may finally be approaching that elusive mark, but I’m still angry. How dare he die!

To read one of his most memorable poems, please look here:

And my poem for Prentiss can be found on this blog:

https://robertokaji.com/2014/09/06/earths-damp-mound/