Robert Okaji

One Day I’ll Market Your Death

Do not mistake this phrase for one contiguous with threat. Even its flower knows the theory of attractive quality. An ideal medium for cochineal production, the prickly pear shelters a host of creatures we seldom caress. Which displays greater motility, the cactus or the cochineal? Life-cycle of attributes, packaging, excitement, the unknown. In the Aztec language, the word meant prickly pear blood. The insects’ bodies and eggs yield carminic acid, which mixed with aluminum or calcium salts composes the red dye. Reaching for substance subsumes neither metaphor nor effect. Sessile parasite: carmine. The product of Dactylopius coccus became the second most valued resource in Mexico, behind silver. Opportunism unveiling itself, revealed, or, layered greed. What appears to be fungus engenders wealth. One-dimensional / attractive / indifferent. We look together through the window’s glare, observing our reflective selves.

You Are the Wind that Trusted

The barriers I could not place, the incomplete lines and unmouthed verbs registered in stone, saying I am here,

as if taw were born in evil, and not the fruit of the need to mark.

At what velocity must sand scour these walls to obliterate

the hand’s intent? How may we gauge design?
Galileo’s thermoscope crudely measured temperature variation,

but in 1612 Santorio added a numerical scale. For centuries, T

did not produce a miniscule and stood tall in its singular representation.

Hydrated iron oxide, mixed with bone marrow and charcoal,
yields ochre. The formula predates writing.

Development, not invention.

T’s varying structure may be one of sequence and slippage.

Thermoscopes were open ended tubes dependent upon air pressure.
Celsius originally proposed a scale with 0 at the boiling point.

A cruciform. The capped spike. Blended tongues.

Complexity intrudes with every step: smoke-darkened ceiling.

Even the Sotol Believes

If we must discuss logographic systems, let us begin with fish.
And how might one mistake an entrance for a perch?

A movable rod for a desert spoon?

Today's lesson excludes a poorly rendered door.

Hinges are merely mechanical joints, the origin of which means to hang. Concentrate there.

D is the tenth most frequently used letter in English.

Depicted on rock wall paintings, the sotol has provided food, sandals,

blankets, ropes, tools and spirits for millennia.
Slow cook the roots for three nights, crush, then ferment for seventy-two

hours in champagne yeast. Distill, then age in French oak.

We shall neither open nor close, nor mention those things that do.

Like bivalves. Bottles. Eyes. Shops. Caskets. Books. Mouths. Circuits.
Its flower stalk rises up to fifteen feet. Its leaves are long, thin and barbed.

Surrounded by orange ochre flames and black smoke, the sotol spirit appears.

Dalet will not enter our vocabulary today.

Self-Portrait with Shadow

Sometimes light reveals our schemes, shallowing the depths to offer the barest glimpse between our selves. Separate and unequal, we blend. The predominant sibilant in English, its pronunciation varies. Sciaphobia is the fear of shadows, not of their source. Last winter the wellhead froze and we chain-sawed our way to warmth, synchronized in the fading day. And which decides the other’s fate? In the flame I detect new life, a hissing in the cast iron box. Though ranked only 8th in frequency of use, more words in English begin with S. Is hiss the opposite of shh? Two facets of one darkness. A faint suggestion: not the serpent, but the bow and a misperception. Shadows grow in proportion to the distance between the object blocking light and the projection surface. Resembling infinity, yet missing the link, light never touches the umbra. Amphiscians cast shadows in two directions. Or not at all.

Robert Okaji lives in Austin, Texas. Recent work has appeared in Prime Number Magazine, Clade Song, and RiverLit, among others.
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