Neither Grace nor Body
What is ash but death
lightened, emptied into air.
A hand released
from the making of soap,
the washing of limbs.
Neither grace nor body recovers.
A father sacrifices himself
that his boy may live.
No one hears, but someone
digs through the rubble,
uncovering. Later. Much later.
I think of you as my nightshade,
a figure standing between ornamental
and poison, between flower and blade
or moonlight and black confetti sifting
through the day’s last seconds. How
is that sound shaped by never
and the tongue’s reluctant tip? I listen
as you chamber a round and promise
guilt and years of incomplete deeds.
I do not accept your venom. I cannot.
Less Than Absence
How loneliness greets me
with its dispassionate gaze
focused on the dead elm
at the crest of the neighbor’s
hill, reminding me that I
am the phrase not remembered,
lying just beyond the stone
fence, tucked out of sight,
but within reach, if only
your absence were less
than absence. If only.
Robert Okaji lives in Indiana. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Evergreen Review, riverSedge, Eclectica, Threepenny Review and elsewhere.
Unwinding the Snake (after Linda Gregg)
Old moon, you piss me off,
smiling so in your flimsy gray
sheets, looking so content.
The snake wraps itself around
my wrist, squeezing. Its eyes
say nothing to me. Nothing,
as if I were a temple devoid of
laughter, the cliff at dawn’s
edge, or a kangaroo rat skittering
under mesquite. I unwind the
snake, place it in the grass,
look up. You still piss me off.
Without you I am the roofless house
awaiting a thunderstorm, a water
strider in a drying creek, that boulder
poised at the canyon’s rim before
the earth shivers. I am the pan without
fire, a spoke missing its wheel, the
skydiver’s nightmare, a black hole’s
belly regurgitating light. I hike and
sweat, and every second leans slowly
against the next, tiny glaciers pushing
minutes behind, pulverizing the long
incremental days into fine gravel.
Where are you, I ask. What is this
fever, this surging tune I cannot hum?
Robert Okaji is a displaced Texan seeking work in Indiana. He no longer owns a bookstore, is a U.S. Navy veteran, and once won a goat-catching contest. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Book of Matches, Vox Populi, North Dakota Quarterly, Boston Review, Tistelblomma, Crannóg and elsewhere.
What have we crumpled and tossed
into the trashcan across the blacktop
if not decades of forfeited days
and those broken-feathered
regrets pinned under glass. Groaning,
incapable of elegance, still I long
to be those undulating grains by
the roadside in the great between.
Crows caw out of sight as I pump
gas and watch your hair blowing
in the angled light. Sing me your
favorite birdsong. Whisper the cloud’s
name. Tomorrow we’ll dream in Iowa
of corn that is not just corn, but
the emblem of that junction between
innovation and form, function and all
that blisters under the sun’s unforgiving
eye. I want to infiltrate each kernel,
peer through the veiled yellow-white,
recover sweetness, flatten the curve.
Robert Okaji is a displaced Texan seeking work in Indiana. He once owned a bookstore, served as a university administrator, and most recently bagged groceries for a living. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in As Above So Below, Slippery Elm, Atlanta Review, Vox Populi and elsewhere.