Few poetry collections strike me to the core. In 2009, D. A. Powell reduced me and a third of his audience to shocked tears when we expected his witty, cutting verse and he recited “Chronic” from his then latest collection, Chronic. Now, Okaji has stepped up to the plate and added his work to the short list with this collection.
As a whole, this collection is an exploration of Impermanence. On one side are the cycles of seasons, weather, water, wind, life, the moon and flowers. To counter are the agents of change, pressure and erosion: gravity, time, light, rain and wind. “Wind” opens the collection.
That it shudders through
and presages an untimely end,
that it transforms the night’s
body and leaves us
breathless and wanting,
petals strewn about,
messenger and message in one,
corporeal hosts entwined,
that it moves, that it blends,
that it withdraws and returns without
remorse, without forethought, that it
increases, expands, subtracts,
renders, imposes and releases
in one quick breath, saying
I cannot feel but I touch,
I cannot feel.
There can be no resolution to this interplay, only the knowing. Late in the collection, “Elegy for the Night” iterates the conflict: “The wind takes nothing it does not want. // The wind wants nothing. // Nothing remains.” But we still matter, relationships matter. Reminiscent of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, Okaji offers hope and advice in “Nine Ways of Shaping the Moon”: “1. Tilt your head and laugh / until the night bends / and I see only you. . . // 3. Remove all stars and streetlights. / Remove thought, remove voice. / Remove me. But do not remove yourself. . . // 9. Fold the light around us, and listen. / You are the moon in whose waters / I would gladly drown.”
The poetics are masterful. The enjambments, indentions and spatial mapping of “Rain Forest Bridge” enacts the scene as it develops.
you must first
trust the strands
The second tentative
each successive one
to then, a summoning of
Vapor meets cooler air,
clouding the far side.
When the exploration of Impermanence and the poetics align, the result is exquisite, and yet devastating. When the poet looks inward, a horrible, beautiful honesty emerges and yet suffocates.
My mother brought to this country a token of her death to come.
Now it sits on my shelf bearing implements of music.
In her last days I played Sakura on the mandolin,
trusting that she might find comfort
in the blossoms fluttering through the failing notes
The theme of death returns in the closing poem, as do the blossoms and the wind. In “Earth’s Damp Mound”, the poet asks, What bitterness / preserves your sleep? and he answers, Not the unspoken, but the unsayable.
[from “Earth’s Damp Mound”]
That week it rained white petals
and loss completed its
turn, the words finding themselves
alone, without measure,
without force, and no body to compare.
Though strangers spoke I could not.
Is this destiny, an unopened
mouth filled with
pebbles, a pear tree
deflowered by the wind? The earth’s
damp mound settles among your bones.
I greatly enjoyed this collection and look forward to future works by Okaji. I received this chapbook directly from Dink Press and Kristopher D. Taylor for the purpose of reviewing it.
[Check out my other reviews here.]