When Shadows Hide

  

When Shadows Hide

I breathe when you breathe,
and watching me,
you capture each lost molecule.

This book blinks whenever you turn the page.
I see you between the words, between the white threads.

You are the adored chapter, the one I read in bed before
sleep, and after I wake, before the first wren announces
dawn, then in the afternoon’s highest point, when shadows hide,
and later, as they emerge to stroke your bare shoulder.

What’s on the other side, you ask. What do you hear?

Your breath, I say. Your name.

 

“When Shadows Hide” was first published in the print anthology Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love in February 2019.

 

Privilege

 

Privilege

Every hour becomes another.

Surrendering minutes, accepting
gain, which gravities restrain us?

Strong coffee, books. A smile.

Such imponderables – the measured
digit, starlife, an unmarked sheet of
paper fluttering to the floor.

Sometimes the lights go out
and we wonder when they’ll return,
not if. Or the laborer misinterprets
a statement and stains the carpet.

There but for the grace…
Anything can happen, and frequently does,

but we open the door and step out, unhindered.

 

 

“Privilege” is included in my chapbook, From Every Moment a Second, available for order now via Amazon.com and Finishing Line Press.

 

White Mules and a Column of Smoke

vinyl

 

White Mules and a Column of Smoke

I am thinking of a place I’ve never seen or visited,
much like Heaven or Jot ‘Em Down, Texas, but with better
beverages and the advantage of hindsight and seasoning,
a glance back or to the peripheral, with a side of memory
and sliced, pickled jalapeños topping a pile of imagination.

And how do we so clearly remember what never occurred?
That book I read in 1970 was first published three years
later. A drowned childhood acquaintance ordered a beer
and sat next to me at a party in college. The open fields
I recall from the garden walls in France, where homes stood.

If only we carried with us slide shows or grooved vinyl
to trace back our lives – photos and recordings of those daily
remembrances – detailed notes indexed on cards, or data
embedded in our palms and accessed by eye twitches.
Would such evidence improve our lives?

Which filters shutter moments and thoughts, twist them
into balloon animals we no longer recognize? False
accusations and convictions aside, can we trust what we
know to be true? That oak stands where it has for four
decades. I bleed when cut. The sky still leers above us.

 

 

“White Mules and a Column of Smoke” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge. I am grateful to Natalie Butler, who sponsored the poem and whose photo inspired me.

 

No One Knows

 

No One Knows

There, the dream of flying
cars, and the next,

tumbling through soft
glass, inconsiderate and

hopeful as a child
on his birthday,

hands outstretched, waiting.
Unsmiling. You might ask

where this story turns,
whether the glass reconstitutes

or the car crashes,
reminders of a childhood

reconsidered and the simplest
truth, which is no one knows.

 

“No One Knows” was first published in The Pangolin Review in March 2018.

 

Staircase at Fifteen

staircase

 

Staircase at Fifteen

Ascending, her centrifugal
influence captures me

and I follow,
breathless,
witless, wordless,

despite all longing
and shared

discretions, in spite
of the thundering
pulse
and the incessant
demand to act
or run.

She pauses, looks
down, sees
nothing.

Suddenly freed,
spinning off
and slowing down,
shrinking,

far below, on equal
footing but so
apart,

never to meet
in truth, unable
to define direction or

motive, I remain
fixed as she moves
higher, far away, close

but up,
always up.

 

planetarium

 

 

His Softness (with recording)

shoes

 

 

His Softness

What name would survive
had you not stepped into the water

that day? Memory assigned
a separate word, another given,

and the face I’d placed with you
appeared in front of me

fifteen years later, in another
setting, miles away

and still breathing. How
may I honor you

if not by name? I recall
the gray ocean and how

umbrellas struggled in
the wind, and reading

in the weekly newspaper
a month after

that you had never emerged.
Now your name still lies there,

somewhere, under the surface,
unattached yet moving with

the current, and I,
no matter how I strain,

can’t grab it. Time after time,
it slips away. Just slips away.

 

.* * *

“His Softness” was published in January 2016 in the inaugural edition of MockingHeart Review.

 

Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon

 

Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon

 

Dear Jeff: The glow here betrays our fantasies,

and between day and night and that uncertain

moment when neither holds sway, I have gained

a toehold on consequence. Who knew darkness

could shine so? Last November the surgeon

incised my belly six times but no light oozed

out and little crept in. I say little, but feel

a peculiar radiance emanating from my middle

which I can only attribute to the moon, although

the medical professionals would say it’s just

gas. But what do they know of Sheng-Yu or

Li Ho, of jade wheels and spilled cups? Last

night, to honor our marching sisters, I looked

to the cloud-filled sky and toasted them and

our ancestors, the poets and scapegoats, friends,

allies, compatriots, Five White and Jackboy,

shedding a solitary tear of joy in the process.

We won’t label the other tears, but I shudder

at our country’s current course and how the

bulging wallets of the rich continue swelling

at the expense of the poor and unhealthy,

the elderly, the unacknowledged, and those

living on the fringes, in colored shadows.

If we meet in person on some desolate, moon-

free road in a country that could never be,

how will I know you but from the ghosts and

smiles sparkling in the surrounding fog,

and the little voices singing their sad tune

of happiness into the night. This is where

we stand today, but tomorrow? Look for me

on that bench. I’ll be the full-bellied fellow,

the one with an eclipse leaking from his shirt

in a six-point pattern, two glasses in hand,

wine uncorked, ready for reptiles and politicians,

mirth and causation and good conversation

in brightness or tenebrous calm, whichever

needs replenishing more. But bring another

bottle. Or two. Talking makes me thirsty. Bob.

 

 

* * *

My poem “Letter to Schwaner from the Toad-Swallowed Moon” was first published at The Hamilton Stone Review in October 2017. Much gratitude to editor Roger Mitchell for taking this piece.

 

 

Scarecrow Pretends

scarecrowfield

Scarecrow Pretends

How may I claim another’s earth for myself? My perpetual
stance invites occlusion of the senses and a certain disregard
for dignity; I flap in the breeze and bits of me scatter across
the fields. Sze asks if we know a bird’s name in ten
languages do we know any more about the bird. I say no,
but I am a species of stitched remnants and expectation,
a race of one. Genderless, my hollow name holds no secrets,
no history. If I called myself Hudson would anyone recognize
my stuffing for what it is not? What flows through my clothing
but rags, straw, the useless and unwanted. Insects and their feces.
The unearned, the unwarranted. The underclass. Folly. Design.
Gift by delusion. Does attracting more crows than I deter negate
my existence? And which am I? A river? A man? An effigy, one
perception, or another? I do not frighten, but welcome. Speak
louder, that we may ignore our insignificance, our true names.

 

 

 

“Scarecrow Pretends” was published in The Slag Review in January 2017, and a few months later was mentioned in an article in the Long River Review’s blog: “Scarecrow Pretends: Robert Okaji’s Metallurgy.

 

 

 

Trains

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Trains

1

In the marrowbone of night,
your song parts the fog.

I never knew the secrets entrusted there.

I never knew that cinders and steel
could lie so passionately

and still believe that the watchman’s hours
would evaporate and leave us scratching for more.

I have stolen time.

The windows remain closed and shuttered.
Even the wind turns away.

The track narrows.

You call.

Again.

2

Sometimes song seems the only respite,
the rhythm of clashing cars

and moments stretched beyond the next bend
to that point where light winks out.

We both know this lonely tunnel.

Payment is due.

I have always exited alone.

3

Another evening, and red smoke completes the horizon.

Your ribs stretch for distance,
and while I cannot see their end,
I know by sound
their lot.

Sing for me.
It is not
too close.

 

 

“Trains” was originally published in Lightning’d Press (Issue 8) in Spring of 2014, was reprinted on Aubade Rising in April, 2015, and has appeared here several times. It is also included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

track

Knots

knot

 

Knots

Who you are not seldom rises
beyond midnight’s

sum: one strand thrown over
another, looped through

and pulled taut, achieving
tension and a sour taste

at the back of your throat.
Everyone believes this

doesn’t bleed. I lock the
windows, draw the shades,

twist the cord. Even distracted,
nothing comes undone.

 

modern light MGD©

 

“Knots” first appeared here in June 2016.