Baking Bread

 

Baking Bread

I would knead you in the afternoon,
in the warmth of a still room,
starting high at the shoulders,
one finger sliding down your spine,

my lips following, tracing the path
of a hummingbird’s flight. Oh, my love,
circumstance and distance, floods and
wildfires, will never truly douse our light.

I wait as the dough rises, and think
in the languages of yeast and water
and flour and salt, how my hands

will feel at your waist, how our day
falls into night, our love firming,
ever expanding through the rising heat.

* * *

“Baking Bread” first appeared in Ristau: A Journal of Being in January 2019. Many thanks to editor Bob Penick for taking this piece.

Nocturne with a Line from Porchia

bureau

 

Nocturne with a Line from Porchia

Everything is nothing, but afterwards.
I rise and the moon disturbs the darkness,
revealing symbols, a few stolen words
on the bureau. Tomorrow I’ll express
my gratitude by disappearing be-
fore I’m found, which is to say goodbye
before hello, a paradigm for the
prepossessed. Compton tells us to imply
what’s missing, like Van Gogh or Bill Monroe,
but why listen to the dead before they’ve
stopped speaking? Unfortunately we throw
out the bad with the good, only to save
the worst. I return to bed, and the floor
spins. Nothing is everything, but before.

 

* * *

This first appeared in The Blue Hour Magazine in December 2014, and is also included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform. The line “Everything is nothing, but afterwards” comes from Antonio Porchia’s Voices, translated by W.S. Merwin. Porchia wrote one book in his lifetime, but what a book it was! Often described as a collection of aphorisms, Voices is so much more – each time I open the book, I find new meaning in old lines.

Vincent

 

Home: Living Between

 

Home: Living Between

My younger self dwelled in shadows propelled by light.
Indigo to ebony, in variant shades.

Concealed in language and skin, surrounded by shelved words.
Departed friends. Grass grown tall or baked to a brittle yellow.

The central order of a life arranged in sequence, orbiting through mother,
father, sister and passers-by glancing through our windows.

A parachute of discomfort billowing in the blue.
Distance and uncertainty beyond the nuclear family.

Acknowledging the new, still I looked inward.
The house as structure, as symbol, but always impermanent, unattainable.

Not rejection, but a liminal sense of being, of place.
Faces changed, but books carried me from city to state to country.

Translated from three views and speaking in brushstrokes across the wall,
slowly filled from edge to center, layer upon layer.

Containment, conjunction, circumstance. Triangle to circle.
No headstones mark my locus, no place bears my name.

Borders, the threshold of shared lives.

 

 

* * *

“Home: Living Between” was originally published at Allegro Poetry Magazine.  Thank you, Sally Long, for taking this poem.

 

 

 

Giving Time

image

 

Giving Time

The supplicant’s desire:

mornings sliced into perfect pieces, afternoons
dipped in honey, evenings freed.

A gift of absence.

To gather and bear, shaping
the resultant minutes,

she takes yeast from the air, adds
flour, water and salt.

Matched with the ripening

hour and the sweetened bitter taste,
I recall how blood
seeped through the towel, and

observe on the table the
cheese, plums, the harvested day.

 

 

* * *

This originally appeared on Bonnie Mcclellan’s International Poetry Month website. A recording is also available there: https://bonniemcclellan.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/giving-time-by-robert-okaji/

 

image

 

Self-Portrait as Hoot Owl

 

Self-Portrait as Hoot Owl

Who do you think I am, what will
grace serve, where in this moonless
void might you lie, can we echo
through the hours and never attach
ourselves to one discernable tree?
Is query my only song? Is sadness
yours? Wrapped around these
priceless silhouettes, our voices
merge downhill near the creek’s
rustle, below the seeping clouds
and stars yet somehow above the
night and tomorrow’s slow ascent
into more questions, more doubt.

 

* * *

“Self-Portrait as Hoot Owl” first appeared 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.

 

Recording of “The Loneliness of the Last”

The Loneliness of the Last

Always exposed, never sharing the comfort
of between, you see only the departed

diminishing with each second’s passage, blurring,
shrinking, and finally blinking out, all points

erased in the null, an eye closing in the tunnel.
Or, inhaling the fragrance of an unseen orange

grove filtered through coal and thick, black
coils, you accept the limits of possibility,

known only by edges flowing past, lost
to touch and forever beyond reach in the draft

of the inadmissible. Departure defines
you. What lies ahead is not yours to embrace.

* * *

“The Loneliness of the Last” was published as a mini-broadside by ELJ Editions in February 2017.

Loneliness

“Trem Abandonado” by Rafael Vianna Croffi
(https://www.flickr.com/photos/rvc/29472173566)

 

Driving without Radio

trash-in-tree

 

Driving without Radio

One minute you’re sipping coffee at the stoplight,
and the next you find yourself six miles

down the road, wondering how you got there,
just two exits before the French bakery

and your favorite weekday breakfast taco stand.
Or while pondering the life of mud,

you almost stomp the brakes when a 40-year old
memory oozes in — two weeks before Thanksgiving,

the windshield icing over (inside), while most definitely
not watching the drive-in movie in Junction City, Kansas,

her warm sighs on your neck and ear, and the art
of opening cheap wine with a hairbrush. How many

construction barrels must one dodge to conjure these
delights, unsought and long misfiled? You turn right

on 29th Street and just for a moment think you’ve seen
an old friend, looking as he did before he died,

but better, and happier, and of course it’s just a trash bag
caught in a plum tree, waving hello, waving goodbye.

 

 

“Driving without Radio” was published at Split Rock Review in November 2016. Many thanks to editor Crystal Gibbins for providing a home for this one.

 

What the Body Gives, Gravity Takes (Cento)

balance

 

What the Body Gives, Gravity Takes (Cento) 

As if what we wanted
were not the thing
that falls,

as what was given
to answer ourselves with – air

moving, a stone
on a stone,
something balanced momentarily.

Or wheels turning,
spinning, spinning.

The waters would suffer
at being waves,
but nothing of their dream
takes place,

nothing that is complete
breathes. But the world
is peopled with objects.

You grow smaller,
smaller, and always
heavier.

You can think of nothing else.

 

Credits:

Jane Hirshfield, Gustaf Sobin, George Oppen, Joy Harjo, Alberto de Lacerda, Jacques Dupin, Francis Ponge, Denise Levertov, Jacques Roubaud.

* * *

“What the Body Gives, Gravity Takes” appeared in Issue Four of Long Exposure, in October 2016.
wheels

 

Roof Charm

roofmoon

 

Roof Charm

What is home if not exile to the familiar?

A serrated kiss at the closet door.

We duck our heads and cook meals undercover,
the sun’s rays deflected.

And every relentless     day finds
our hands     wanting.

The black shawl, unfolded.
Wax melted on the whetstone.

You say stars shiver despite their light.

You say one hand      mirrors its mate’s      arc.

I say warmth flows through you, the roof     our sky.

 

glare

 

“Roof Charm” made its first appearance here in June 2016.

 

While Blowing on the Shakuhachi I Think of Birds

While Blowing on the Shakuhachi, I Think of Birds

Yesterday’s sorrow
dissipates in joy.
Though you are not here, I hear your voice,

blow a solitary note in response.
Your philosopher bird carries it to you,
two-thousand miles away,
as the wren brings your song to me.

This is love today
and tomorrow, 
embodied in birdsong and faith.

Next week I will know your touch
as you will mine.

We’ll follow our lists,
starting with lips, while the universe
surges around us, filling the voids we never saw.

Needs, answered.

Perhaps the world will end.

Perhaps the red-tailed hawk will follow its nature.

Perhaps I will stand on the roof and shout your name.

But today, this little bird nesting in all the unsaid spaces,
is all I have, little mouth flickering, forming moons and

new mornings, new shadows, new light.

* * *

“While Blowing on the Shakuhachi I Think of Birds” first appeared in Voices de la Luna in March 2020.