Kites

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Kites

Will viewpoint shift with my spine’s slow
compression, or will this

window admit only true images
in the shortened days to come?

I pencil phrases on bone-shaped kites
and release them to the afternoon.

Call them prayers, name them moans.
Each string is a regret freed, a separate

skeleton, let go. My two selves shudder
in the attempt. I await the perfect breeze.

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“Kites” first appeared here in July 2016.

Late Night (after Li Po)

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The moon smiles upon my bed.
I consider frost and ice,
and raising my head, the bright sky.
Lying back, I think of home.

 

Once again, I’ve attempted to shiver myself into a timeless piece. I can only hope that my version does not offend.

 

The transliteration from Chinese-Poetry.com follows:

Bed before bright moon shine
Think be ground on frost
Raise head view bright moon
Lower head think home

 

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This originally appeared here in March 2014.

Resurrection (Cento)

rocks and fog


Resurrection (Cento) 

Everything we love
returns to the ground.

Each syllable is the work of sabotage,
a breeze seeping from the heart of the rocks.

They are my last words
or what I intend my last words to be.

I think just how my shape will rise,
a miracle, anywhere light moves.

*****

A cento is composed of lines borrowed from other poets. “Resurrection” first appeared here in January 2016, and owes its existence to the poetry of Tishani Doshi, Paul Auster, Antonella Anedda, Sean Hill, Emily Dickinson, and Ruth Ellen Kocher. I urge you to seek out their work. It astounds!

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From Alternative Fiction & Poetry (1987)

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(This first appeared here in March 2014).

Quite the interesting mag back in the day. This particular issue saw the likes of Bukowski, Ivan Arguelles, Lyn Lifshin, Norm Moser, Sheila E. Murphy, and, well, me, among others. I was thinner back then, as was my poetry.

 

no more than
the slow grace
of light turning

the leaf so
patient in the
air and colder

now that sense
of permanence unfurled
it is not

long to wait
as Wang Wei
said in his

letter I listen
for a sound
but hear none

 

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Numbers numbers numbers: NINE

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Numbers numbers numbers: NINE

Early on in my other life I was hand-picked and hired to assist with budgets, to work with numbers. One of the higher-ups remarked that my spelling score was quite good for a “numbers person.” This amused me to no end, as I’d no inkling that a) anyone in the world considered me fluent with numbers, or b) that the mundane labor that comprised my livelihood had been noticed, much less evaluated, by someone beyond my small, three-person office (certainly no one noticed the writing I’d produced and published). More than a quarter century later, I’m still amused. And still working with numbers, which even now remain mysterious, magical, and even inspiring.

Take the number nine. Multiply it by two, and you get 18. Add the two digits that comprise 18, one and eight, and you get 9. Multiply it by three: 27. Total the two digits forming 27, and you get, yes, 9. Multiply it by four, by five, by six, by seven, eight or nine. Add the digits that comprise the sum and you return to nine. Interesting, no?

It appears everywhere. In Islamic cosmology, the universe is built of nine spheres. In Ancient Mexico, the netherworld consisted of nine layers. The magic square consists of nine parts. Beijing was designed as a center with eight streets. Hindu temple foundations contain jewels and nine distinct grains. The human body has nine openings. The number also appears in both sacrificial and healing rites. The River Styx bends nine times. I could go on (we haven’t scratched the surface), but will refrain.

And if this piece piques your curiosity, you might find this poem inspired by zero (a truly fascinating subject) of interest:

http://www.cladesong.com/okaji.withtheseninefigures.html

Or this one, “That Number upon Which the Demand Lieth,” which takes up the number three.

This first appeared on the blog in February 2014.

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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Mirror

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Mirror

The attraction is not
unexpected. We see

what is placed
before us, not

what may be.
The mirror is empty

until approached.

 

* * *

One of six short poems included in my micro-chapbook, You Break What Falls. Available for free download here: http://www.origamipoems.com/poets/236-robert-okaji

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“Mirror” first appeared here in May 2015.

Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

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Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

Wind bends the grass along the road.
A lonely truck passes by.
Stars reach down to touch these hills
and the moon drifts behind.

No one will ever know my poems.
I am too old and ill to work.
Circling, floating, who am I
but a vulture looking down.

First posted in March, 2014.

This is not a translation, but rather a version, my “take” on a famous Tu Fu poem. I claim no abilities in translation, neither speak nor read Chinese, and instead depend upon the skills of those who have ventured into these difficult reaches. This is where the poem carries me, a middle-aged Texas hill county dweller, in the Year of the Horse, 2014.

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

Here’s the transliteration on chinese-poems.com:

Nocturnal Reflections While Traveling

Gently grass soft wind shore
Tall mast alone night boat
Stars fall flat fields broad
Moon rises great river flows

Name not literary works mark
Official should old sick stop
Flutter flutter what place seem
Heaven earth one sand gull

My goal was to retain the mood, as I understand it, of the original, and to place it into my personal context. An interesting exercise.

Somewhere: 28 Rue St. Jacques

 

Somewhere: 28 Rue St. Jacques

Or eating spam fried rice in the courtyard
after kindergarten, and playing cowboys
with Thierry, the kid next-door. We shared toys,
but not comics. Written language was hard

to decipher, unlike the spoken. I
never captured the nuances, and lost
the rest over the years. Today the cost
eludes me, like moths fluttering by. Try

to recall that particular morning light,
how it glanced off the French snow, and the
way our mother smiled at breakfast, no trace

of sadness, yet, the lines marking our heights
rising along the wall, limbs of a tree
we’d never climb, out there, somewhere, in space.

 

* * *

This was originally drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge. I was never satisfied with it, and didn’t see any reason to revise. But those memories are worth sharing!

 

Self-Portrait with Shadow

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Self-Portrait with Shadow

Sometimes light reveals our thoughts.
Separate and unequal, we blend.

The predominant sibilant in English,
its pronunciation varies.

Sciaphobia is the fear of shadows. Last
winter the wellhead froze and we

chain-sawed our way to warmth,
synchronized in the fading light.

And which decides the other’s fate?
In the flame I detect new life, a hissing

in the cast iron box. Though ranked only 8th
in frequency of use, more words in English

begin with S, leaving additional questions.
Is hiss the opposite of shh?

The umbra is the darkest part
of the shadow, where light is completely

blocked. Not the serpent, but the bow
and a misperception. Shadows grow

in proportion to the distance
between the object blocking the light

and the projection surface. Resembling
infinity, yet missing the link. Two facets

of one darkness. A faint suggestion. Amphiscians
cast shadows in two directions. Or not at all.

This appeared on the blog in April 2015, and another version appeared in Otoliths in fall of 2013, but it appears that I’m not quite done with it. I’d been exploring our alphabet, tracing letters’ origins from hieroglyphs to present form, and attempting to merge some of those findings with disparate details. One of these days I’ll get back to it…

A Q&A and more successful examples of what I was trying to achieve can be found at Prime Number Magazine:

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