Living in Lines He Carries Nothing

 

Living in Lines He Carries Nothing

The man you knew is fading,
withdrawing into memory’s
specimen jar. A fatal flower. One
dried scorpion. Another late glass
of pinot. He carries nothing with him
but words. Living in lines on the page,
he listens to the sotol stalks rasping
sad farewells at night, their peace
interrupted by cicadas droning in
the trees. He wants to be seen
before he dies. Thinking hurts, he says.
I depend on pain that won’t vanish
or forget its purpose. I do not want.

 

 

 

“Living in Lines He Carries Nothing” was published in fall 2019 in the print anthology Through Layered Limestone: A Texas Hill Country Anthology of Place. I am grateful to editors d. ellis phelps, Lucy Griffith, Darlene Logan, Donna Peacock and Mobi Warren for taking this and three other pieces.

 

 

 

Well Pump

 

Well Pump

To be within, yet without: the rootless seed.
Staring through glass, we see only the surface
sliced thin like cell-thick specimen slides.
I dream of knowing, of inclusion.
The well pump is fried, but only thieves
return our calls. How to deflect the lure
of complicity? Stack stone, observe clouds.
Tap the cistern. Absorb its hollow tune.

 

* * *

“Well Pump” first appeared in January 2018 in Amethyst Review.

Many thanks to editor Sarah Law for accepting it.

 

Agave

photo(2)

 

Agave

It might deceive.
Or like a cruel

window, live its life
unopened,

offering a view
yet reserving the taste

for another’s
tongue, ignoring

even the wind.
The roots, as always, look down.

 

* * *

This first appeared in Ijagun Poetry Journal in December 2013, was featured in poems2go in April 2016, and is also included in my micro-chapbook, You Break What Falls, available for download from the Origami Poems Project: http://www.origamipoems.com/poets/236-robert-okaji

 

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While Trespassing I Note the Sadness of Old Fences

 

While Trespassing I Note the Sadness of Old Fences

I write poems when I can,
in late morning or during

the afternoon, between chores
but before dinner. And sometimes

I duck through spaces
void of wire barbs, and consider

how to fill the incomplete, which words,
what materials could repair

those particular holes. I cut my own
fence once, to access our house

when the creek flooded the road,
lugging uphill through the snake

grass a jug of scotch, my mandolin
and a watermelon, essentials for a weekend’s

respite. To be truthful I cut only the lowest
strand, to help the dog get through — I

was able to climb over, but he couldn’t dig
through the limestone rubble to wriggle

under, and we’d come too far
to simply turn around.

 

* * *

This appeared in riverSedge, Volume 29, Issue 1, released in October 2016. I first encountered riverSedge in 1983, and vowed that one day my poetry would be published in this journal. It took a while…

 

Buddha’s Not Talking

 

 

Buddha’s Not Talking

 

He looks out from the shelf while I consider
manure, sharp knives and the hagfish’s second
heart, or whether odors differ in texture when a dog

retraces his steps through the park, and do they really
lose themselves or just quickly shed their pasts,
forever moving towards now. Sometimes I say hello,

but truthfully we seldom interact, unless I bump his
shoulder when retrieving one of the books leaning
against him, and then it’s only a quick “sorry” on my

part, and a stare on his, perhaps a slight nod if
I’ve not yet had coffee. I fear I’ll never grasp
the difference in having and being, that my true

nature has splattered on a trail and the dogs will
sniff it and lift their legs in acknowledgment,
or perhaps acceptance of the infinite, with wisdom

far beyond my reach, before moving on to disquisitions
about soil and fragrance and the need to justify art
with decimal points. Yesterday I roasted chicken, moved

books, sipped ale. Today I’ll sweep, discard papers and
wonder if I’ll become what I think, whether reincarnation
will be cruel or kind. Either way, Buddha’s not talking.

 

* * *

“Buddha’s Not Talking” first appeared in July 2017 at Blue Bonnet Review.
With gratitude to editor Cristina Del Canto for taking this piece.

Texas Sestina

Texas Sestina


Wherein I search through debris for that root, 
that long foot grasping soil and air, a streak
of forever’s descent. Chain sawing wood
I’ve breathed the metaphor of ash and earth,
have stared at flame, dreamed of water, a wave
of night crashing me through its strong-armed flow.

Among limestone and cedar, shadows flow
past prickly pear shadows, where wild hogs root
among thirsty rocks, and bandanas wave
goodbye to yesterday. Hummingbirds streak
past, defending borders of air and earth,
and I gaze at my stunted, twisted wood.

Soon I’ll leave this plot behind, burn its wood
no more. I will release myself and flow
northward, pulled to a strange land where the earth
grows darker, where no one knows me, and root-
less I’ll stand, but not alone. Birds will streak
the gray sky. I’ll proffer a half-assed wave.

Longing, I think of Hokusai’s great wave
and the insect trails circling my stick’s wood
as I stomp through the knee-high grass, a streak
of diamond-shapes muscling ahead, that flow
between life’s weeds and thorns. My old heartroot
stretches past dawn, star and sky, beyond earth.

When I think of fire, I grasp the light earth
holds, the origins of water and wave,
the sadness of leaving. I will take root
in old ground, find new trees to love, hardwood
to carve and learn from, seek new patterns, flow
between now and then, reclaim luck’s long streak.

Until then I wait, watch that feathered streak
buzz its pendulum course above the earth.
When it’s time, I’ll surrender to the flow,
lie back, let go, accept the soothing wave
and all it carries — losses, secrets, wood —
leaving behind that sad cumbersome root.

The window’s streak contains light but no root.
Leaves flow, too fast to count. The earth
trembles as I stack the split wood. Just then, a wave.

* * *

“Texas Sestina” first appeared in the spring 2020 issue of ˆTaos Journal of International Poetry & Art”

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.

Shadow’s Tale

image

 

Shadow’s Tale

If I call,
will you
reply?

Questions
left unwritten
shape
themselves

like words
we see
but don’t
read. Signs

fade then
reappear,
and the oaks

droop
in the still
heat.
No rain

again. If
you call,
will I
reply?

 

image

“Shadow’s Tale” first appeared here in June 2015.

April 1 Online Reading

 

I’m looking forward to participating in an online reading with 12 other poets, including Charles Darnell, Martha K. Grant and Stephanie L. Harper, on Thirsday, April 1 at 7:00  p.m. US Central Daylight Savings Time.  The reading is sponsored by the Patrick Heath Public Library of Boerne, Texas, and is free, but you must email Robin Stauber (place Miracles in the subject line) at stauber@boernelibrary.org to obtain the invitation link.

The reading should last somewhere between an hour and an hour and fifteen minutes (we’ve been asked to read for no more than five minutes). In case you’re wondering, I’m the 11th reader and Stephanie is the 13th. If you’re able to attend, we’d love to see you (if only virtually).

 

Creek Haibun

Creek Haibun

The creek’s waters flow so quickly that I make little headway in my attempt to cross. A water moccasin slips by, and my left boot takes on water. This is not real, I say. We’ve had no rain and I would not be so foolish as to do this. Asleep? Perhaps, but I’ve passed the halfway point and have no choice but to move forward. I slip and nearly pitch headfirst into the dark current. Lightning stitches the sky.

 

dreaming, the snake

swims against floodwaters

oh, what have I lost?