Lake Pavilion (after Wang Wei)

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Lake Pavilion

The boat carries the honored guest
so regally across the lake.
We look out over the railing and sip our wine.
Lotus blossoms, everywhere.

As is nearly always the case, I had more questions than answers when I first considered this adaptation, beginning with “what is happening here?” Yes, someone crosses a lake to meet a guest, they drink wine and see flowers in the water. But what does this signify? From my 21st century Texan viewpoint, the poem seems to be a piece about spiritual passage, and I colored my version with this in mind, using visual references to capitalize on and support the theme – crossing a body of water, looking outward, and of course, observing the lotus flowers, which hold great symbolism in Chinese and Buddhist culture.

The Chinese-poems.com transliteration:

Small barge go to meet honoured guest
Leisurely lake on come
At railing face cup alcohol
On all sides lotus bloom

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This first appeared on the blog in November 2014. My, how time has passed.

Palinode (egg, politics, pathology)

 

Palinode (egg, politics, pathology)

Who determines completion if not the morning’s best
layer? The answer is what comes first, not the
question, which replenishes the old deviltry: I am not
whole: I am partial: I am absent: you. Please define
node. Taking exception, rules mediate the norm. Fried,
poached, scrambled, radiated, coddled, baked, raw,
boiled, I serve myself, and in turn am served, when,
truth be told, I’d rather serve you. Twice.

I’d rather serve you twice than be pushed aside, a
thimbleful of nectar fermented and forgotten in
someone’s late pantry. Or worse, cast into the Pacific,
swallowed by a Fukushima-fed tuna, caught and
auctioned to an Alaskan sushi chef and left to molder
at week’s crossing. The point at which a wave has an
amplitude of zero, or a pathological swelling. That one
moment of clarity before night’s fall.

That one moment of clarity before night’s fall at
Juneau’s 716 Calhoun Avenue, which posits the
ability to see beyond sight: the blind hen produces
more, never pausing to consider repercussive issues.
Progeny, pathological swellings, statements of the
incurious. Do we use squirmish? I take, or am given,
offense. Without you, I am the silence preceding the
letter, an untoward growth, the silence remaining.

Without you, I am the silence preceding the letter
terminating at vision’s end: a fence, the Phoenician
form which birthed H, or two posts joined at
midsection and later, abandoned. Breach. Enough.
One’s last egg brought to fruition, a terminus in
thought or language carelessly placed. A bruising
point between vanishing waves or carted through
our long nights. Denial. The pathology revealed.

 

 

 

“Palinode (eggs, politics, pathology) first appeared at ISACOUSTIC* in October 2019. Many thanks to editor Barton Smock for his tireless efforts to promote poetry and poets.

 

 

A Brief History of Babel

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A Brief History of Babel


Borders, windows.
Sound.

Trudging up the steps, I am winded after six flights,
my words smothered in the breathing.

The Gate of God proffers no favors.
When the spirit gives me utterance, what shall I say?

Curiously, no direct link exists between Babel and babble.

A collective aphasia could explain the disruption. One’s
inability to mouth the proper word, another’s
fluency impeded by context.

A stairway terminating in clouds.

Syllable by twisted syllable, dispersed.

Separated in symbols.
And then,
writing.

To see the sunrise from behind a tree, you must face
east: higashi, or, a discrete way of seeing
the structure of language unfold.
Two characters, layered. One
thought. Direction.
Connotation. The sun’s
ascent viewed through branches
as through the frame
of a glassless
window.

Complexity in simplicity.
Or the opposite.

I have no desire to touch heaven, but my tongues reach where they will.

Who can know what we say to God, but God?

And the breeze winding through, carrying fragments.

 

* * *

 

My poem, “A Brief History of Babel,” was drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was subsequently published at Bonnie McClellan’s International Poetry Month celebration in February 2017.

 

 

Rain Forest Bridge

bridge

Rain Forest Bridge

To cross
you must first
trust the strands

to hold.
The second tentative
step precedes
the next,

each successive one
gaining strength:
here to

there, now
to then, a summoning of
entreaties
within
one’s faith.

Vapor meets cooler air,
forming droplets,
clouding the far side.

I have feared endings
and the strictures of the unseen,

but here
in this vast
swaying,
I know

one line
bisects the void.

* * *

“Rain Forest Bridge” first appeared in Four Ties Lit Review in August, 2014.

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Year’s End

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Year’s End

If I lose myself in breathing,
will the air forgive my forgetfulness?

This oak, too, will stand long after
the last train exits the tunnel.

I worry that my friend may never
clamber past his lowest ambition.

Different and unabated, our words
now stumble over themselves.

Every night forms a morning somewhere:
each year, combined in our shared darkness.

 

* * *

“Year’s End” is included in my micro-chapbook Only This, available via free download from Origami Poems Project. Many thanks to editor Jan Keough for taking the mini-chap and offering this opportunity to so many.

night

Earth

puddle

 

Earth

Tremor and
stone

beset upon the calm.

Now water
lines the road’s

bed, and we see
no means to pass.

Even so
you break what falls.

 

* * *

This first appeared in Ijagun Poetry Journal in December 2013, and is also included in my micro-chapbook, You Break What Falls, available (free of charge) for download from the Origami Poems Project: http://www.origamipoems.com/poets/236-robert-okaji


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Synapses and Other Conjunctions

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Synapses and Other Conjunctions

My advice? Wear boots, even among the dead.
Our barefoot friend, having separated the rattler’s
head from its body, picked up the six-foot
length to show off, and stepped back onto
the head, which though not alive, still managed
to squeeze venom from the ducts and inject it
through its fangs, into his foot. Consider this
a metaphor, if you must, but don’t belabor
it. This morning I am searching for
connections. The plumber says that when
the overflow is clogged, the sink won’t drain
properly, and I notice similarities between
vision and words and the dryer’s vent — how
twists and hard angles and blurry lint may
confuse the issue, perhaps even start a fire.
And before you say, yes, yes, that’s what
I want, a fire
, consider other possibilities,
not to mention consequences. Confuse
one word for another, and you’re an idiot.
Let your finger tap the wrong key, and the
incorrect letter provides a glimpse into
the future, or at least beyond the neighbor’s
closed door, a passage of signals impossible
to predicate. But differences exist: decapitate
poets, and they won’t bite, or at the very least
their venom will infect your nervous system
indirectly. Other advice? Pause before sending,
look before you leap (or step back). Avoid fast
food and politics. Drink good beer. Laugh often,
breathe deeply. Contemplate your footwear.

 

dryer

 

“Synapses and Other Conjunctions” was written during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30-30 challenge, and was subsequently published in September 2016 at The Blue Nib. Many thanks to Luanne Castle for sponsoring the poem and providing the title.

 

Wind

blossoms

Wind

That it shudders through
and presages an untimely end,

that it transforms the night’s
body and leaves us

breathless and wanting,
petals strewn about,

messenger and message in one,
corporeal hosts entwined,

that it moves, that it blends,
that it withdraws and returns without

remorse, without forethought, that it
increases, expands, subtracts,

renders, imposes and releases
in one quick breath, saying

I cannot feel but I touch,
I cannot feel

* * *

“Wind” first appeared in Blue Hour Magazine and is included in my first chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

tree

Self-Portrait as Compost

 

Self-Portrait as Compost

Beneath the surface find warmth,
the fruit of decay and mastication,
of layered mixes and intermingled
juices. Disintegrated or whole,
still I strive to speak. Bits of me
meld, to be absorbed slowly; I
process and am processed: here,
within the pepper bush’s deep red
berries, there among the dianthus.
Scattered, deliberately placed,
having been, I shall emerge again,
forever changed, limitless, renewed.

 

* * *

 

“Self-Portrait as Compost” was first published in Issue 125 of Right Hand PointingThank you to editors Dale Wisely, Laura M. Kaminski, F. John Sharp and José Angel Araguz for taking this piece.

 

 

What Happens Next

 

What Happens Next

Another night with the frost,
she says, and you’ll know

the half-life of cold.
Which is not to say enjoy,

or pity, or pretend.
It is the sheath of God’s

gaze, an unsuspected lump.
The harvested curse.

You grasp what happens next.

 

“What Happens Next” first appeared here in November 2017.