Robert Okaji lives in Texas with his wife, two dogs and some books. The author of three chapbooks, his poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Clearing, Reservoir, Panoply, Modern Literature and elsewhere.
Flensing words, slicing deeper: all, nothing,
red to redder. Their skin, paling to nothing.
I speak today but you hear yesterday.
Black lilies in the chill of nothing.
Drifted apart, the two halves reconcile.
Yellowed, whitened. Older. Both stitched in nothing.
How many words have we lost to morning? Shredded
syllables sparring for sound. The nothing of nothing.
A coated voice, turquoise and calm, spreading across the room.
Buttered light. Pleasantries, unfolding. You, being nothing.
The language of night sleeps unformed in my bed.
I remember your hand on my cheek; flesh forgets nothing.
Is it simply forgotten
or not remembered?
My father coughs
through his days,
asking for answers
only his brother knows.
Some books are better
read from the end,
he says. I don’t know
what to do.
He tries to spell his name
but the letters elude him,
teetering between symbol
and thought and choice.
The chair tips over
when I lean too far back,
and a new bruise
coloring my thoughts.
This word, that one.
A face, the date.
Last Tuesday’s crumb.
The floor accepts us all.
Palinode (Texas, cedar, misery)
More than repression, more than fate and the captive idiom. More
than denial. More than the juniper’s red wind, the grackles’ flocked
effervescence. More. My friend lives on clay and I, on stone. How
to express stability’s process, the jurisdiction of pollen? The warbler
suffers no choice but that of extinction; it requires. It breathes. It
feeds, it sings and yet we come to excision. Destruction, with no
thought to consequence. Wet clay expands. Stone is constant.
Stone is constant but harbors no thought to permanence. We are
its mineral, pressing for wisdom and the eternal: to gain entrance.
Look closely. The juniper berry is a cone whose scales have merged.
I seek space and find habitat bounded in half-truths and careless
talk as the north wind broadcasts microspores throughout my
neighborhood. Inhale and know the power of propagation. Helpless
in its path, we think only to escape.
We think only to escape and instead wear misery in the attempt.
Crusted eyes, raw throats. Diminished patience. Our neighbor
chain-sawed his female cedar years ago, but his discomfort continued
unabated. The Juniper Hairstreak butterfly overwinters as a chrysalis.
Golden Cheek Warblers nest among its limbs. I flavor food with its
berries, relish the shade in July, the fragrance, year-round. Celebrating
coexistence, we sneeze. My saw lies still.