person Robert Okaji, four poems

Robert Okaji is a displaced Texan seeking work in Indianapolis. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Panoply, Slippery Elm, Indianapolis Review, Vox Populi and elsewhere.


Self-Portrait with Nine

Nine rivers, nine mountains, nine skies.
The root of the Egyptian word also shapes sunrise and the new moon.
Of fire, of attainment and totality, of truth.

In my ninth year we moved to the Mojave.
After two hands-breadths, the new.
The nine spheres, beyond which nothing lives.

Consider the negative aspect: pain, sadness, suffering. Distress.
Ku does not symbolize near-perfection in Japan.
Nor do I resemble the triad squared.

In the horoscope, the house of worship, of wisdom and books.
A sign of perfection, a final limit.
A number multiplied by nine produces a figure that totals to nine.

The body’s doorways, the twists of the River Styx.
That which contains no stars.
From the custom of expressing numbers by symbol: cattle.

Nine times six equals 54.
Five plus four equals 9.
I am the sum excarnate.

Astrologers designed Beijing as a center with 8 streets leading to it.
Books no longer consume my days, but numbers do.
In Ancient Egypt, the nine bows represented enemies of the state.

Acknowledging my limits, I reach for the ascending ash-moon.
When the Wednesdays of nine months gather, peace will endure.
The mockingbird’s ninth song veers to the absurd: ringtone.

Center of the eight-petaled lotus.
Hindu temple foundations contain jewels and nine distinct grains.
Beyond Name and Form, the sky’s edge.


Self-Portrait as Circle

Ever-bounded, I express myself in
limitation, in one-dimensional
anxiety looped around the blank
self which is not me; unfilled,
or forever open, intuiting the history
of resemblance in tree stumps,
in concentric pond ripples and
entrance wounds at the instant
of penetration. Or, closed, as
barrier to all extending beyond
my linear border, I accept this
trait, knowing that even as I
surround this empty field, the
center is never mine to hold.


Palinode (egg, politics, pathology)

Who determines completion if not the morning’s best
layer? The answer is what comes first, not the
question, which replenishes the old deviltry: I am not
whole: I am partial: I am absent: you. Please define
node. Taking exception, rules mediate the norm. Fried,
poached, scrambled, radiated, coddled, baked, raw,
boiled, I serve myself, and in turn am served, when,
truth be told, I’d rather serve you. Twice.

I’d rather serve you twice than be pushed aside, a
thimbleful of nectar fermented and forgotten in
someone’s late pantry. Or worse, cast into the Pacific,
swallowed by a Fukushima-fed tuna, caught and
auctioned to an Alaskan sushi chef and left to molder
at week’s crossing. The point at which a wave has an
amplitude of zero, or a pathological swelling. That one
moment of clarity before night’s fall.

That one moment of clarity before night’s fall at
Juneau’s 716 Calhoun Avenue, which posits the
ability to see beyond sight: the blind hen produces
more, never pausing to consider repercussive issues.
Progeny, pathological swellings, statements of the
incurious. Do we use squirmish? I take, or am given,
offense. Without you, I am the silence preceding the
letter, an untoward growth, the silence remaining.

Without you, I am the silence preceding the letter
terminating at vision’s end: a fence, the Phoenician
form which birthed H, or two posts joined at
midsection and later, abandoned. Breach. Enough.
One’s last egg brought to fruition, a terminus in
thought or language carelessly placed. A bruising
point between vanishing waves or carted through
our long nights. Denial. The pathology revealed.


Even As It Gives

      earth. You are turning now. You have always turned.
Even your transience moves me, and as the peak flowering
before dawn’s intrusion burns to its end, I, too, turn,
invisible yet fixed in my path, damp, grateful, complete.
If I removed myself from this equation, would gravity’s
release diminish me? Spreading my arms I inhale,
acknowledging presumption’s limit, savoring attraction,
motion, the improbable.


person Robert Okaji, three poems

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.


Black Lilies

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,

replacing memories
with hardwood

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.