Japanese Gardens

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Japanese Gardens

how natural the
lines falling so
purely as if

with a single
stroke we walk
through the opening

and see space
the white center
composed of sand

and gravel later
a gate opens
to another garden

its lantern and
stone so carelessly
arranged so deliberate

 

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“Japanese Gardens” first appeared here in January 2015.

 

RO

Ro

When this note fades
will it join you in that place
above the sky
or below the waves
of the earth’s plump
body? Or will it
circle back, returning to
my lips and this
hollow day
to aspire again?

 

 

Note: Ro designates the fingering required to produce a particular note on the shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute. In this case, closing all holes.

 

Morning Suizen

 

Morning Suizen

Boundless, it sips direction in the way of all music,
tonguing each note for its salt.

We call this ecstasy. Or peace.
Follow, and they still escape, always beyond
our outstretched fingers.

Exhale slowly. What do you know?

That long tunnel, ribbed in silence.
The scent of burning cedar.
Days framed in darkness and birdsong.

 

* * *

Note: Suizen is the practice of playing the shakuhachi, the traditional Japanese bamboo flute, as a means of attaining self-realization.

 

“Morning Suizen” first appeared on Nine Muses Poetry. Many thanks to editor Annest Gwilym for taking this piece.

Emptying Haibun

 

Emptying Haibun

Waiting, I open myself but nothing enters. Even music’s comfort avoids me, preferring calmer ports or perhaps another’s wind choices. I drop the weighted cord through the flute, pull it, and watch the cloth ease out. Some days pain drags behind me no matter what words emerge, what phrases follow. Last night brought the season’s first fireflies. This wall of books grows taller each day.

exhaling, I note

smudges in the sky —

oh, dirty window

 

Hey, I’ve Won a Chapbook Contest!

 

The Sadness of Old Fences 2

I’m delighted to report that I’ve been named the winner of the 35th Annual Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Contest:
 
Slipstream is pleased to announce that the winner of our 2022 Poetry Chapbook Contest is Robert Okaji for his collection, “Buddha’s Not Talking.” The book will be published in late summer. All entrants in the contest will receive a free copy of the chapbook, along with a copy of the latest issue of Slipstream (Issue #42 Bread/Blood/Beats theme issue.
 
Robert Okaji lives in Indiana with his wife, stepson and cat. He holds a BA in history, served without distinction in the U.S. Navy, toiled as a university administrator, and no longer owns a bookstore. His honors include the 2021 riverSedge Poetry Prize, the 2021 Etchings Press Poetry Chapbook Prize, and the 1968 Bar-K Ranch Goat-Catching Championship.
 
Poet Robert Penick writes: “In an era of ego and agenda-based poetry, Robert Okaji ties us to the moment, the gesture, and the event. What few may understand is how important his commitment is to the truth. Okaji measures speed, spit, and distance, always taking the velocity of time into account before launching an image or forecast. And he never misses his target.”

I’ll post order links when available. Cover art by the inestimable Stephanie L. Harper. Author photo by Matthew Harper. 

Cover Photo

Ikebana

leaf on stone

 

Ikebana (You without You)

Between frames, between presence and negation, authority.

If your body lies in the earth, why are you here?

Limits admired and sought: the way of the flower.

I pluck leaves from the lower half to achieve balance.

Shape and line detach, yet comprise the whole.

My father, awake in his chair, mourns quietly.

A naked twig forms one point of the scalene triangle.

Starkness implies silence, resonates depth.

Heaven, earth, man, sun and moon invoke your absence.

As you trickle through the interval’s night.

 

* * *

Ikebana is the art of Japanese flower arrangement.

chair

This first appeared on the blog in March 2016, and is included in my mini-digital chapbook, Interval’s Night, published by Platypus Press in December 2016, and available via free download.

 

Forever

photo

 

Forever

Our dogs hide under the bed,
escaping thunder.

But the sun shatters
a cloud and I know

we will live forever.
Each hour is the sky,

every day, another
star. Now the trees

join the wind
in rejoicing. This

is what we make,
they say. Only this.

 

* * *

“Forever” made its last appearance here in April 2018.

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Snow Country

Fuji

Snow Country

desolate the reach
of space a
curved line of

white empty as
the loneliness one
feels the tone

is different on
a day like
this she says

unaware that her
words fall like
snow in the

mountains soft quiet
in the roar
no one hears

 

* * *

Another piece from the eighties…this first appeared here in November 2015.

FACES 2

Rain Forest Bridge

bridge

Rain Forest Bridge

To cross
you must first
trust the strands

to hold.
The second tentative
step precedes
the next,

each successive one
gaining strength:
here to

there, now
to then, a summoning of
entreaties
within
one’s faith.

Vapor meets cooler air,
forming droplets,
clouding the far side.

I have feared endings
and the strictures of the unseen,

but here
in this vast
swaying,
I know

one line
bisects the void.

* * *

“Rain Forest Bridge” first appeared in Four Ties Lit Review in August, 2014.

rope

Shakuhachi Blues

 

Shakuhachi Blues

That waver,
like the end of a long

dream flickering to wakefulness,
or an origami crane

unfolding between whiskey
poured and the tale of deceit

and a good woman done wrong.
Air flutters through this bamboo

tube, and it seems I control
nothing. Inhaling, I try again.

 

A simple instrument that will take a lifetime to learn…