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 download here: http://www.origamipoems.com/poets/236-robert-okaji

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“Mirror” first appeared here in May 2015.

Requiem II

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Requiem II

To say what becomes: this word
bends in the wind of our

breath. Is this too simple to
say? Our bodies gather yet retain

nothing. Numbers, phrases, the way
the ocean rolls. Once I saw
a whale at dusk. Or rather I saw its

tail part the water and disappear
into darkness, an answer too complex
and sweet for tongues to comprehend.

But waves seldom explain. Imagine
something nearby but beyond reach.

Think of clouds and shrines, consider light.

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“Requiem II” first appeared here in May 2015.

Scarecrow Takes a Holiday

Scarecrow Takes a Holiday

Having neither organs nor neural impulses,
I no longer ask why or how I hear and smell,
taste and see, feel. This morning I woke
to magpie song and onion breeze, in
a body not mine, yet mine, at peace
on Jeju Island, far from my crows, yet
still among friends singing the same
language. I know this: home lives
within, and no matter where we travel,
it rides with us. Like the man who
spoke to me, bald, bearded, a pale
foreigner in this land, comfortable
here, at home. He listened for my reply,
but unfortunately I’d not been given
a mouth, and my words dropped to the
ground and were rolled away by
beetles before he noticed them.
Perhaps I should have written a note,
but he wished to gamble and how
could I refuse? I am hollow, but not
empty, whole, yet not complete,
away but here. He took a coin
from his pocket, flipped it. I saw…

A response to Daniel Paul Marshall’s “Scarecrow Travels (after Robert Okaji)”

Apricot House (after Wang Wei)

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Apricot House (after Wang Wei)

We cut the finest apricot for roof beams
and braided fragrant grasses over them.

I wonder if clouds might form there
and rain upon this world?

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Fine apricot cut for roofbeam
Fragrant cogongrass tie for eaves
Not know ridgepole in cloud
Go make people among rain

Each adaptation poses its challenges, and this one was certainly no exception.
First I identified key words and determined how or whether to use them.
Apricot, roofbeam, cogongrass, eaves, ridgepole, cloud, people, rain.

Apricot was a given. It offered specificity, and feels lovely in the mouth. Roof beams, as well. Cogongrass didn’t make the cut. It is indeed used for thatched roofs in southeast Asia, but it felt clumsy; in this case, the specificity it lent detracted from my reading. And rather than use “thatched” I chose “braided” to imply the layered effect of thatching, and to imply movement, to mesh with and support the idea of clouds forming and drifting under the roof. “Not know” posed a question: did it mean ignorance or simply being unaware, or perhaps a state of wonderment? I first employed “unaware” but thought it took the poem in a different direction than Wang Wei intended (but who knows?). “Ridgepole” seemed unnecessary. So I chose to let the reader follow the unsaid – using “form there” to reinforce the impression already shaped by the roof beams and the grasses “over them.” I admit to some trepidation over the second couplet. It may still need work.

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“Apricot House” first appeared here in December 2014.

Rice

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Rice

Yesterday’s rain informs me I’m born of luck and blended
strands, of hope and words forged before a common tongue emerged.

Of my first two languages only one still breathes.

The other manifests in exile, in blurred images and hummed tunes.

Rice is my staple. I eat it without regarding its English etymology,
its transition from Sanskrit to Persian and Greek, to Latin, to French.

Flooding is not mandatory in cultivation, but requires less effort.

Rice contains arsenic, yet I crave its polished grains.

In my monolingual home we still call it gohan, literally cooked rice, or meal.
The kanji character, bei, also means America.

Representing a field, it symbolizes abundance, security, and fertility.

Three rice plants tied with a rope. Many. Life’s foundation.

To understand Japan, look to rice. To appreciate breadth, think gohan.
Humility exemplified: sake consists of rice, water and mold.

The words we shape predicate a communion of aesthetics.

Miscomprehension inhabits consequence.

* * *

“Rice” appeared here in June 2015, and in my chapbook, The Circumference of Other, which is included in Ides, a one-volume collection of fifteen chapbooks published by Silver Birch Press and available on Amazon.com.

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Even the Sotol Believes

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Even the Sotol Believes

If we must discuss logographic systems, let us begin with fish.
And how might one mistake an entrance for a perch?

A movable rod for a desert spoon?

Today’s lesson excludes a poorly rendered door.

Hinges are merely mechanical joints, the origin of which means to hang. Concentrate there.

D is the tenth most frequently used letter in English.

Depicted on rock wall paintings, the sotol has provided food, sandals,

blankets, ropes, tools and spirits for millennia.
Slow cook the roots for three nights, crush, then ferment for seventy-two hours in

champagne yeast. Distill, then age in French oak.

We shall neither open nor close, nor mention those things that do.

Like bivalves. Bottles. Eyes. Shops. Caskets. Books. Mouths. Circuits.
Its flower stalk rises up to fifteen feet. Its leaves are long, thin and barbed.

Surrounded by orange ochre flames and black smoke, the sotol spirit appears.

Dalet will not enter our vocabulary today.

 

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Originally published in Otoliths 41 (October 2013), and posted here in October 2015.

Recording of “In Praise of Rain”

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In Praise of Rain

Which is not to say lightning or hail.
Sometimes I forget to open the umbrella

until my glasses remind me: Wake up, you’re
wet! If scarcity breeds

value, what is a thunderhead worth
in July? A light shower in August?

Even spreadsheets can’t tell us.

***

“In Praise of Rain” has appeared here several times, but this is the recording’s debut.

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