This Oak

  

This Oak

Never rooted in Tibet,
has not watched a whale breach
a November Pacific dusk, or guzzled
bitter beer near Vesuvius. Nor has it
absorbed the warmth of a loved one’s
hip on a frozen morning long after
the embers’ glow has greyed
and the windows blossomed
white. It cannot know the beauty
of disparate instruments playing
in joyous harmony. It will whisper
no incantations, does not smile,
won’t ever feel the anticipation
of a first kiss after a complicated
courtship. The bouquets of Bordeaux
elude it, as do tears or the benefits
of laughter. Why, then, do I envy it so?

 

 

“This Oak” was published in Slippery Elm (print only) published by Findlay University in Findlay, Ohio, in spring 2019. 

 

Feeling Squeezed at the Grocery Store I Conclude that the Propensity to Ignore Pain is Not Necessarily Virtuous, but Continue Shopping and Gather the Ingredients for Ham Fried Rice because That’s What I Cook When My Wife is Out-of-Town and I’m Not in the Mood for Italian, and Dammit I’m Not Ill, Merely a Little Inconvenienced, and Hey, in the 70’s I Played Football in Texas and When the Going Gets Tough…

emergency

 

Feeling Squeezed at the Grocery Store I Conclude that the Propensity to Ignore Pain is Not Necessarily Virtuous, but Continue Shopping and Gather the Ingredients for Ham Fried Rice because That’s What I Cook When My Wife is Out-of-Town and I’m Not in the Mood for Italian, and Dammit I’m Not Ill, Merely a Little Inconvenienced, and Hey, in the 70’s I Played Football in Texas, and When the Going Gets Tough…

I answer work email in the checkout line. Drive home, take two aspirin.
Place perishables in refrigerator.  Consider collapsing in bed.  Call wife.
Let in dog.  Drive to ER, park.  Provide phone numbers. Inhale. Exhale.
Repeat. Accept fate and morphine. Ask for lights and sirens, imagine the
seas parting. On the table, consider fissures and cold air, windows and
hagfish. Calculate arm-length, distance and time.  Expect one  insertion,
receive another. Dissonance  in perception, in reality.  Turn head when
asked.  Try reciting Kinnell’s  “The Bear.”  Try again, silently this  time.
Give up.  Attempt “Ozymandias.”  Think of dark highways. Wonder about
the femoral, when and how they’ll remove my jeans. Shiver uncontrollably.

 

football

 

The events in this poem took place seven years ago. A lifetime ago.

 

 

In Praise of Chiggers

 

In Praise of Chiggers

 

And the others
feasting unseen
upon you,
offering their
blessings
of digestive juices
and anticoagulants,
allergic reactions and
reddened mounds
made pleasurable
by your fingernails
scraping the skin
around them, over
and raw, again,
again, it feels
so good!

 

“In Praise of Chiggers” first appeared here in August, 2017.

 

What Feet Know (with recording)

feet

 

What Feet Know

The earth and its subterfuge.
Gravity and the points between here and there.

And sometimes the rasp of grainy mud
clenched between toes,
or a rock under the arch,
an explanation too pointed
for display on a page,
too hard, too much for flesh to bear.

No constellations foment underground.
Nothing there orbits a companion.

No light but for that darkness the heel scrapes away.

 

 

“What Feet Know” was featured on Postcard Poems and Prose Magazine in December 2016, and is included in my  chapbook, From Every Moment a Second, available Available at Amazon.Com and Here.

 

My Mother’s Ghost Knits a Scarf of Chain

 

My Mother’s Ghost Knits a Scarf of Chain

When I look up rust scabs flutter from your clicking
needles, subsuming even the brightest link in this
moon-drenched room. Communion’s possibility

perished in that wicker basket, and we hold close our
secrets, looped within circles, joined in these most hidden
stitches. Will you ever detach? I recall losing myself,

stepping from darkness into the white afternoon beyond the movie,
finding only strange faces on a street unraveling from
a wound I’d not yet felt. Now you pull apart the gatherings.

Yesterday’s scarf lies incomplete on the invisible shelf,
and tomorrow’s tightens uncomfortably around my throat,
even as I read aloud, proposing family life on a scale

we cannot duplicate, in a house lost long ago in a city
I’ve not yet seen, in a decade before my birth and a pearled
atmosphere of cleansing air into which my body longs to rise

but can’t, tethered in place by love, this terrible, beautiful love.

 

 

My Mother’s Ghost Knits a Scarf of Chain,” was first published in Issue 14 of Panoply in January 202

Track (after Tranströmer)

file000826525674(1)

 

Track (after Tranströmer)

2 p.m.: Sunlight. The subway flows
beneath us. Flecks of darkness
shimmer madly on the wall.

As when a man cracks a window into a dream,
remembering everything, even
what never occurred.

Or after skimming the surface of good health,
all his nights become ash, billowing clouds,
strong and warm, suffocating him.

The subway never stops.
2 o’clock. Filtered sunlight, smoke.

 

* * *

I’ve been dipping into Friends, You Drank Some Darkness, Robert Bly’s 1975 translations of Harry Martinson, Gunnar Ekelöf and Tomas Tranströmer, and I couldn’t resist playing with one of my favorite poems. A different darkness, a separate space, another landscape…

This first appeared here in April 2015.

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.

 

 

 

Two Poems Up at Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art

 

My poems “Letter to Geis from This Side of the Glass” and “A Texas Goodbye” are live at the Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art. D.G. Geis was a friend, a larger than life  poet, and a fellow Texan. We were both finalists for the Slippery Elm poetry prize in 2017, and after learning that we didn’t win, decided to have a “losers’ lunch” in Bandera, Texas, the closest town to our respective rural properties. Much laughter ensued, and we made plans to get together for a beer in the coming months. Alas, that was not to be.

 

 

What Are You Going To Do?

 

What Are You Going To Do (Cento)

Not everything can be set to music,
you have to understand that.

If I went to the end of the street,
would I be at the center of myself?

Now ends. Now begins.
Still, we sing the same songs;

we live in the sound – no love
of miracle or numbers helps.

I wonder if my body
is outline. A far point rendezvous.

A smoke plume taken, but not
into a hot, dark mouth.

Or perhaps it never had a name.
Bruising’s not the end of it.

 

* * *

Credits: Maggie Smith, Michael Chitwood, Carol Frost, CM Burroughs, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Dan Beachy-Quick, Willis Barnstone, Lauren Camp, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Maggie Smith, Lawrence Raab, Natasha Saje.

“What Are You Going To Do” was drafted during the August 2016 Tupelo 30-30 challenge, and was published in the February 2017 issue of Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art. The lines used were taken from Tupelo Press publications.

 

While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

 

While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me

And having no other paper at hand,
I scrawl on a dollar bill, “I want to speak
the language of smoke.” My invisible friend
interrupts. That is a white man’s dilemma.

 At least you have a dollar and a pen.
“But I’m only half-white,” I reply, “with half
the privilege.” Then you must bear double
the burden,
he says. This version of math

twists my intestines into a Gordian knot,
as does the concept of half equals twice,
or in terms I might better comprehend,
one beer equals four when divided by color

or accent and multiplied by projection.
The unsmiling waitress delivers my rib-eye
as I’m dressing the salad, and the check appears
just after the first bites of medium-rare beef

hit my palate, certainly before I can answer the
never-voiced question “would you like dessert?”
Cheese cake, I would have said. Or cobbler. And I
seldom turn down a second beer. This too, I’m told,

is another example of my unearned entitlement. I
contemplate this statement, scribble a few other
phrases on bills, drop them on the table, and walk out,
wondering which direction to take, which to avoid.

 

* * *

“While Reading Billy Collins at Bandera’s Best Restaurant, Words Come to Me” was a finalist last fall for the Slippery Elm Prize in Poetry. It was published in Slippery Elm (print only) in December 2017. You may be amused to hear that shortly after the winner was announced, I had lunch in Bandera with one of the other finalists in this competition, D.G. Geis, but not at the restaurant featured in the poem. The photo is of a local bar, not the eatery, but it offers some of the flavor of the town.