My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

 

 

My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

Even in death she scraps the easy path, choosing thorns and rocks
over blossoms and a groomed walkway. On hands and knees,
scouring the floor with ghost water and a scrub brush made of ancient

thistles, her pale figure flares yellow in the kitchen. Mom, you don’t
have to do this, I say. You’re dead, and besides, I have a swiffer
in the garage. I can almost hear her humming a Ray Charles

song from an album back in the sixties, and I notice that the water
in the transparent bucket remains clear and at the same level no matter
how often she dips into it. What do you say to one who never replies?

We’ve long splashed through that puddle of contention, and though
wary of repetition’s erosive qualities, I resort to ritual, drop a piece of
kombu into a pot of water, bring it to a boil, remove it from the heat,

sift in a handful of dried bonito flakes and a few drops of soy sauce,
stirring it a few times. Then I strain the liquid, spoon in some miso,
add chopped green onion and a few cubes of tofu. I ladle this into two

black and red laquer bowls and set them on opposite sides of the table.
Hours later, the glow from the kitchen has faded, but I fidget and lie
awake, pain pulsing from hip to knee, and wonder if surgery is impending,

whether I should hire someone to temporarily mow the grass. How do
we reconcile reality with desire, with emotional drought and flood-swollen
creeks and the inability to draw together those things we desire most?

In the morning the floor is still dirty and the soup is where I’d left it,
at the sharp edge separating table from space, another stuttering symbol,
cold and unappetizing, smelling faintly of fish and muddy water.

 

 

“My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” first appeared in The Indianapolis Review, and was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

 

 

 

Down and Away

 

Down and Away

How soon we lose the scent
of our first love’s

body, that odor of perfume
over sweat and uncertainty

and the overwhelming surge
into what will never again

be new. You shake yourself
back, wondering

if falling stars could choose
to rise again, whether

they would rejoin the firmament
or simply retreat deeper into the

ocean’s black, cooling, sliding
down and away, slipping

free of regret, evading forever
the sun’s long fingers.

 

 

“Down and Away” was first published in August 2019 at Trestle Ties. Many thanks to Juleen Eun Sun Johnson and Aaron Schuman for taking this piece.

 

 

 

 

Recording of My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.

 

 

I was honored to read “My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” yesterday at a celebration of local Pushcart Prize nominees at Irvington Vinyl and Books in Indianapolis. Read the poem here: The Indianapolis Review.

 

 

 

 

Poem Nominated for a Pushcart Prize

 

I’m delighted and honored that my poem “My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Indianapolis Review.

Many thanks to editor Natalie Solmer for accepting this piece.

Click on the link to read the poem or listen to a recording of it.

 

 

Poem up at The Indianapolis Review

 

I’m delighted that my poem “My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” has been published in a special double issue of The Indianapolis Review featuring the work of Indianapolis based writers and artists. There’s also a recording.

So it’s official: I am now an Indiana poet! Many thanks to editor Natalie Solmer for accepting this piece.

 

 

With Summer Purpled Awe

Nawlins

With Summer Purpled Awe

1

No one wants to be forgotten
or remembered for the wrong reasons,
but how do we attain that sweet spot
between regrettable and a barred
door clanking shut? I was born in
Louisiana. What happened next
is that song living at the edge of
memory, just beyond grasp, its
lyrics gnarled and tangled in the
roots of an old cypress along a
muddy creek. Yeah, that one. I
won’t sing it in this lifetime.
That tune’s never coming back.

2

You stretch out your hands
and a reflection cuts you in half.

3

I should have grabbed you and the dog,
and headed to Texas. They’ve got hills
there that the tide won’t reach, and
trees that won’t die from salt
poisoning, whose branches
won’t be festooned with children’s
clothing and bits of people’s torn
lives, and the stench won’t linger
longer than regret and the effect
of poor choice and dumb luck.

4

There, then gone. I scream
until my voice rasps away
but you are still out there,
still floating, still afraid
and angry and beautiful, hair
forming a halo around your
face, no tears, no sound
but water lapping, and
the flies zeroing in.

5

Next time there will be no party.
I’ll wait alone to greet the rain.
The wind will scour me
as I embrace what comes.

* * *

“With Summer Purpled Awe” was drafted during the August 2015 Tupelo Press 30/30 Challenge. Many thanks to Charlotte Hamrick who sponsored and provided the title.

With Summer Purpled Awe

Nawlins

With Summer Purpled Awe

1

No one wants to be forgotten
or remembered for the wrong reasons,
but how do we attain that sweet spot
between regrettable and a barred
door clanking shut? I was born in
Louisiana. What happened next
is that song living at the edge of
memory, just beyond grasp, its
lyrics gnarled and tangled in the
roots of an old cypress along a
muddy creek. Yeah, that one. I
won’t sing it in this lifetime.
That tune’s never coming back.

2

You stretch out your hands
and a reflection cuts you in half.

3

I should have grabbed you and the dog,
and headed to Texas. They’ve got hills
there that the tide won’t reach, and
trees that won’t die from salt
poisoning, whose branches
won’t be festooned with children’s
clothing and bits of people’s torn
lives, and the stench won’t linger
longer than regret and the effect
of poor choice and dumb luck.

4

There, then gone. I scream
until my voice rasps away
but you are still out there,
still floating, still afraid
and angry and beautiful, hair
forming a halo around your
face, no tears, no sound
but water lapping, and
the flies zeroing in.

5

Next time there will be no party.
I’ll wait alone to greet the rain.
The wind will scour me
as I embrace what comes.

 

“With Summer Purpled Awe” was my 28th offering for the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project last August. Many thanks to Charlotte Hamrick who sponsored and provided the title.

I’ll be reading with other Tupelo Press 30-30 alums tomorrow evening, Friday, April 15, at Malvern Books in Austin.

 

Day Twenty-one, Tupelo Press 30/30 Project

waterfront

“Before We Knew” is among the Day Twenty-one offerings of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project (9 poets have agreed to write 30 poems apiece in 30 days, to raise funds for Tupelo Press, a non-profit literary publisher). Many thanks to Ursula, who sponsored and provided the title.

Before We Knew

All thought of consequence
melted with that first touch
of tongue to skin, no respite
to be found in that heat…

To see the rest of the poem, click here

Tomorrow’s poem is titled “Setting Fire to the Origami Crane (the One Floating on Muscongus Bay) at Sunset,” thanks to the kindness and generosity of Jilanne Hoffman.

I hope that the sponsored titles and my responses to them have been entertaining, but other sponsorship opportunities abound. For information on these and their corresponding incentives, click here.

“Name That Poem” sponsorships are still available for Monday and beyond. Conjure up a title (be creative, be weird, be gentle, be poetic, oh, heck, be mean if you wish), donate $10 to Tupelo Press, let me know what the title is, and I’ll write the poem. The  sponsored poems thus far have been a blast to write, and the titles have led me to poems I’d not otherwise have written. If you’re so inclined, please visit the 30/30 blog at: Donate to Tupelo. Scroll down to “Is this donation in honor of a 30/30 poet?” and select my name, “Robert Okaji,” from the pull down so that Tupelo knows to credit the donation to me. And please let me know as soon as possible what your title is.

Thank you for your support! Only 9 poems to go!