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
stone

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!

Jose

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