Life among the Prickly Pear

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Life among the Prickly Pear

Rain’s twofold curse: not enough
too much. Still, I take comfort

even among the thorns.
There is much to like here.

Its moonlight flowers.
Paddles fried with minced garlic.

Wren’s jubilant shriek.
The fruit’s red nectar.

I wake to distant screech owls
purring their desires on separate

slopes. Late spring, storms looming.
I close my eyes and the creek rises.

 

* * *

A draft of this first appeared here in June 2015, and I posted this version in May 2016. I’ve had to deal with a flooded creek recently…

In the meantime, two of my guitar heroes:

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, 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.

The Green Light’s National Poetry Month Celebration

 

The Green Light has put up the collected works from their National Poetry Month celebration. .My poem “Houston” appeared on April 4th. Many thanks to editors Caitlin and Ash for taking this piece!

 

 

Light and Dark and Light Again (crawlspace)

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Light and Dark and Light Again (crawlspace)

Not hopeless, but without hope. If I could
capture my shadow, would I
imprison it in a cell of light

or release it to roam free among the dense cedars,
knowing always that I might betray myself again?
And other repetitions. Doorways beyond other

doorways leading to more openings, like
mouths releasing words in the random
silence, awaiting their return.

What lives under the house but another
darkness, another tale of contrast

and spent energies? Answers move swiftly
from point to point, refusing to be
pinned down. The questions remain.

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This first appeared here in February 2015.

Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void

 

Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void

Dear Dan: I’ve been trying to revive that dream,
the one in which the rare Texas bird sings “cuckoo, y’all,”
before shimmering through the night’s shrilling heart
and wakefulness, as you clamber up the balcony to join me
in knocking back Japanese single malt, chilled soba and Doritos.
The distance between earth and a first floor balcony may vary,
but the fall’s impact can’t ache so much as what never was or won’t
be. My mother’s family hovers out there in the World of Darkness,
while I stumble through my days under the Texas sun, rice grains
trickling from holes in my pockets, studding the way between
there and here, back and forth, between us and them, now and
maybe. I confess that communication doesn’t come naturally
to me. I’m reticent and slow on the uptake, and enjoy my time
as a shaded diminishment with only occasional forays
into the light. So much to learn, so little capacity. I could spend
hours watching the spider working among the unread books,
while my mandolin languishes in its case and the earth
keeps spinning, spinning, holding us in place. What tunes
have I forgotten, which remain unsung? The wire mesh tube
in my heart cleared the way from a numbered life, and now
I roll along in words, which bear their own bags of worry.
But I’ve learned to empty and stack the burlap on the floor near
the resonator, and the sacks magically replenish themselves
every night. So it goes. Empty, refill. Like a glass of Hibiki,
or blood pumped through our anterior descending veins.
Tonight rice and peppers will fill my belly, with fish, a mango
cream sauce, and a bitter ale, which I would share with you,
perhaps in another dream, or better yet, in person, under
stars announced by mythical birds on a warm night with
laughter in the breeze. No ladder needed. Come on up. Bob.

 

“Letter to Schnee from the Stent’s Void” was first published in Lost River in August 2018. Many thanks to editor Leigh Cheak for publishing this piece.

 

Agave

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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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