The Book of Unknowing

What is this scrim between
Music and the self?

Who is incarcerated for
The crime of lucidity?

How does one expunge
The soul’s bile?

What is this chill – like
Floes in river-blood?

Why is it I cannot
Sing like the finches of dawn?

Why does the semolina light
Of late noon calm?

Who are the knives
Of detachment?

Why am I among the invisible?
Where is the soundless wave?

Who are the voices of lead?
Who the voices of water?

What is that woman with half a face
Who sidles back in shadow?

Why is a robin’s egg
An augur of sky?

Why is a closed door
And no door dangerous?

Where do sparrows find
Veins of old rags?

How does a mind
Empty a depthless well?

Why is my heart
A painted horse?

Belt, wallet, watch,
Shoes, keys, coins.

Keep the hoodie.
What remains?

Where do ambulances go
In neon emergencies?

Home and Garden. Time. Sports Illustrated.
National Geographic. Premiere.

Who are the ghosts in nightgoing corridors
Who shuffle like convicts?

Why do sparrows burrow
In the burning sand?

Who claims my heart—
Murderer or saint?

Why does the scorpion
Sting itself?

I’m standing at a crossroads,
Suitcase in my hand.

I’m standing at a crossroads
With a suitcase in my hand.

I don’t mind dyin’, but
I be missin’ the borderlands.

Who knows of all things
Its double nature?

Is that God’s eye in the green light?
What authors the script?

Who sees above the nest’s rim
A hatchling’s red cry?


In the Sanctum of the Hotel of Revelations

It is the human that is the alien,
The human that has no cousin in the moon.
—Wallace Stevens

Picture the hotel in the last world.
Picture the black hearse at the curb.

The valets are old men, odorous of vegetative matter, suited in
Scrubs. Dead palms in the atrium whisper dread.

Our knees sink into maroon plush.

From the baccarat tables and ball rooms the tuxedoed guests
And floating gowns emerge, faces swathed in gauze.

The hotelier fades back as you approach. He is
Imperious. He commands your insignificance.

In a side chapel a god howls with laughter. He
Finds our mendacity contemptible and mean.



In Albuquerque it was the Owl Café, green enchiladas
And Wal-Mart. What is found there East Sixth could not avail?
The cottonwood bolls floated like snow-beings.

Cathy drove us to the Hopi mesa where she was doing her internship.
She had not seen multiple conditions like that. There was
A train to Winslow and a railroad restaurant. On the street was
A statue of a girl my Lord in a flatbed Ford. The hotel has

Maroon carpeting and diamond-shaped Navajo patterning
And hallways that dropped away like a Hitchcock dolly/zoom.
When I miss you I listen to Hope Sandoval sing
‘Fade into You,’ her blurry, gorgeous reticence.

There was nothing opaque about you: your bell-clear voice
A genius commingler, radiant dreamer. You ascended
The spiral staircase in that hotel by the station. It leads
Nowhere but where we meet again in the upper room.

Image credit:Sergiu Vălenaș

Richard Oyama’s poems, stories and essays have appeared in Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry, The Nuyorasian Anthology, Breaking Silence, Dissident Song, A Gift of Tongues, About Place, Konch Magazine, Pirene’s Fountain, Tribes, Malpais Review, Anak Sastra, Buddhist Poetry Review and other literary journals. He has a M.A. in English: Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Currently retired, Oyama taught at California College of Arts in Oakland, University of California at Berkeley and University of New Mexico. His first novel in a trilogy, A Riot Goin’ On, is forthcoming.