Self-Portrait with Bruise

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Self-Portrait with Bruise

Some damages announce, others conceal.
How else may we continue

despite our best
inattentions? And which treasure
do we truly hold

closer, the blood orange
or the blade
that parts its segments? At

thirty I would have chosen
one. At forty, the other. Now,
options spread like branches among the cedars.

Ruptured vessels reveal our lapses.

 

***

“Self-Portrait with Bruise” first appeared in Shadowtrain in August 2015.

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Nocturne (Blue Grosbeak)

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Nocturne (Blue Grosbeak)

Why tremble
when nothing
arrives to be seen?

The architecture
of the day
comes and goes

in the same
heartbeat,
a disturbance

more felt than heard.
But listen.
The grosbeak sings

his presence
and departs,
leaving behind

the echo
of a motion
blending with night.

The air is cool.
A leaf utters
its own message

and falls
unnoticed.
Nothing awaits it.

 

* * *.

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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.

Door Haibun

 

Door Haibun

The glass remains unchanged but what I see through it differs moment by moment. This door is truly of a port in air; I observe these shifting worlds, their translucent seconds ever ticking. Nothing rests – the Texas mountain laurel’s blossoms fade and flutter to the ground while the wind weaves intricate patterns through its branches. Rogue onion sprouts scatter throughout this small section of yard, and a squirrel scampers along the cedar pickets. Light slants through a hole in the clouds. A hummingbird buzzes by. Even the earth moves, and five minutes ago rain tapped out an inconsistent tune on my metal roof. I lift the shakuhachi to my lips, and exhaling, enter the day.

three dogs yapping
announce spring’s arrival
oh, sweet music!

 

“Door Haibun” first appeared here in April 2018.

Mole (Pipian)

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Mole (Pipian)

Always the search beneath texture,
layers captured in subsidence,
the drift to interpretation: a mixture, meaning

sauce, and its journey from seed to mouth,
the careful blend of herb and fire,

dismembered chiles,
the crushed and scorched fruit
rendered to preserve for consumption
the most tender qualities

and their enhancement towards art.

 

* * *

This is of course not about the mammal with the subterranean lifestyle, but rather a version of the Mexican sauce, pronounced “mo-lay,” which includes, as a main ingredient, pumpkin seeds. It takes a while to put together, but is well worth the effort. “Mole (Pipian)” first appeared here in February 2015.

 

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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.

 

Inquisition

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Inquisition

1.
I breathe smoke
from the fire
warming our feet

Something is not right
but not wrong
yet

like the bones’ dance
on wires
in a bad dream

Fear’s sharp blade twists
burning with the slow
heat of coals

2.
I cannot read ashes
the message
of cracked stones in desert light

nor the poetry
of the cow’s skull
white on dark sand

What right has a man

And the snake’s
quivering tongue tasting
what the air brings to him

 

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Originally posted in December 2014. One of my earliest published pieces, this first appeared in Taurus, in 1984. Curiously, this is not the piece that I remembered having been published in Taurus. I wonder if that poem still exists somewhere? Such is memory…