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December 10, 2022

Limping Uphill through the Mist, I Consult My Dead Dog and Dream of

Indianapolis and the Woman Who is Not Yet There

This Texas sky looms grayer, presses down

as my eyelids flicker, avoiding the swirl.

Damp and shivering, I think of her dark hair

highlighting the quilted bed, and I long

to deliver fresh coffee, ease myself down, favorite

mug in one hand, the other reaching for her hip.

The art of living requires flexibility, and we bend

and stretch constantly, yet find the incremental gains

insufficient to loosen our limbs. Can we harness

love, I ask my dead dog, control our physiological

reactions to words and hope? He woofs,

nods wisely, and sniffs the curb. How do

we justify inflicting pain on another to ease

our own? In reply, he lifts his leg and marks the

lamp post. We continue walking uphill. A cardinal

blazes a path through the mountain laurel, and

a diesel F-250 snarls down the block, tail lights

winking in the fog. Tell me why I seek advice only

from the dead, why I've grieved a life away among

others, in solitude, and how late-night fantasies

dismember themselves, dispersing their pieces

in the skies and stock ponds of my aging dreams.

I want to be grounded, I say, yet aloft. Dry, but

floating, with her, somewhere, anywhere – in

Kentucky or New Mexico, Indiana or Texas – it

doesn't matter. The dog snaps off a high-pitched,

jubilant bark, shakes, casting intangible droplets, then

shimmers into the next moment before I can

say goodbye or admit my guilt. Look, I say to the space

he never occupied. Everyone wants to be happy.

At the corner I pause and consider the options: right,

left, or turn around. Choosing, I lean, step forward.


Originally published in Buddha’s Not Talking, winner of the 35th annual Slipstream Poetry Chapbook competition

© the author

by Robert Okaji

Robert Okaji lives in Indiana with his wife, stepson and cat, among hundreds of books. His work has appeared in various literary journals, including Evergreen Review, The Big Windows Review, Threepenny Review, and orangepeel.

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