a robert okaji triptych

Mirror – Robert Okaji

The attraction is not
unexpected. We see

what is placed
before us, not

what may be.
The mirror is empty

until approached.


Italian_Baroque_MirrorThis week’s poems were originally published as part of the Origami Poems Project who create free, downloadable microchaps. “Mirror” and “Earth” (below) come from You Break What Falls, and “Sheng-yu’s Lament” (also below) comes from No Eye But the Moon’s: Adaptations from the Chinese. Both microchaps are availabe for free on Okaji’s Origami Poems author page.

What I enjoy about “Mirror” is how it engages the symbol of a mirror lyrically, so that the metaphysical connotations don’t weigh the poem down. Instead, the short lyric passes as quickly as a reflection, while its insights linger like light.

A similar engine is at the heart of “Earth.” Both poems deal with human presence and their implications. Where one fills the “empty” mirror, one “breaks” the earth by being here. It feels natural to pair these poems because each takes the reader into a meditative state with koan-like directness.

Earth – Robert Okaji

Tremor and

beset upon the calm.

Now water
lines the road’s

bed, and we see
no means to pass.

Even so
you break what falls.


3375190476_26b1cbc344_bTo complement these two poems, I present this third poem, “Sheng-yu’s Lament,” an adaptation from the Chinese. Okaji states in the microchap that he calls it an adaptation rather than translations “because I neither read nor speak Chinese, and have used transliterations to produce these versions.”

Reading below, one can easily that part of what is brought into the adaptation process is Okaji’s lyric sensibility. One can see the handling and navigating of the older poet’s meaning done with reverence not rivalry. Bringing these poems together, one can see how in this poem by another poet we return to “earth” and “mirror,” and can glimpse a bit of what these words might further mean for Okaji as well as ourselves.

Sheng-yu’s Lament
(after Mei Yao-ch’en)
–adapted by Robert Okaji

First heaven took my wife,
and now, my son.
These eyes will never dry
and my heart slowly turns to ash.
Rain seeps far into the earth
like a pearl droped into the sea.
Swim deep and you’ll see the pearl,
dig in the earth and you’ll find water.
But when people return to the source,
we know they’re gone forever.
I touch my empty chest and ask, who
is that withered ghost in the mirror?


Be sure to check out Robert Okaji’s blog, O at the Edges, to learn more about his work.

Happy triptyching!


* rivers

In Eugene, Oregon this week – which means good food, good talk, and walks by the Willamette River.

A friend this week asked me if Ohio had made its way into my writing since moving there a year ago. Not having thought on this subject before, I was surprised at my response, mainly that moving around so much places me back into myself, back into the places I have known.

The Ohio, the Willamette, the Rio Grande, the Susquehanna – the waters I have known are all connected, in the words I write and in the, uhm, science-y geographical way too.

The poem below, from The Penguin Book of Chinese Verse, shares some of this feeling. I am moved by the image of a man sleeping on the current, trusting to wake up in the same world, if only a little different.

* current affairs *
* current affairs *

At the riverside village – Ssu-kung Shu

My fishing done, I have returned, but do not moor my boat;
At the riverside village the moon will set just as I go to sleep.
Even if during the night the wind wafts me away,
I shall only reach the shallows where the rushes bloom.


Happy blooming!


* one year later & three chinese poets

[the lyric poet] always says “I” and sings us through the full chromatic scale of his passions and desires – (Nietzche)

*duly noted*
*duly noted*

Think what you will of Nietzche, he goes overlooked as a poet – and I don’t mean his actual poems but more the spirit with which he approached his writing.  Like the quote above shows, the big N had a way with the aphoristic insight, a lyric way of understanding the world that showed in everything he said.

It is in this spirit that I started this blog a year ago.

Along with having a place for people interested in my work to find me and connect, I wanted a forum with which to share some of what feeds me creatively with fellow readers and writers.

In the past year, I have shared not only poems I admire but other things as well (philosophy, songs, etc.) that have stirred me and made me think – always with an eye towards how it relates to poetry, the writing of it, the spirit of it.

I recently admitted to fellow poet and blog buddy Miriam Sagan that only now, a year later, have I begun to understand what an ever-evolving animal a blog can be.  The Influence has more and more come out of my notebooks, out of my thoughts on a given week.  This approach feels right.

This blog, ultimately, is a reader’s blog.  The enthusiasm that drives me to share is that of a reader, and what insights I stumble upon are due to reading well.  I hope to continue appealing to the reader in all of you.

Lyric poetry is often defined as short and personal.  In many ways, our very lives can be defined as such.  Reading is where these two worlds – where many worlds – meet.

*this, too, is reading*

Here are three poems from Vikram Seth’s book Three Chinese Poets – translations from the work of Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu.  Each poem in its own way pays attention to the short and personal world we live in.


Birdsong Brook – Wang Wei

Idly I watch cassia flowers fall.
Still is the night, empty the hill in Spring.
Up comes the moon, startling the mountain birds.
Once in a while in the Spring brook they sing.


In the Quiet Night – Li Bai

The floor before my bed is bright:
Moonlight – like hoarfrost – in my room.
I lift my head and watch the moon.
I drop my head and think of home.


Thoughts While Travelling at Night – Du Fu

Light breeze on the fine grass.
I stand alone at the mast.

Stars lean on the vast wild plain.
Moon bobs in the Great River’s spate.

Letters have brought no fame.
Office?  Too old to obtain.

Drifting, what am I like?
A gull between earth and sky.


Happy drifiting!