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.