Conversation with Bashō

      by Peggy Heinrich


A tiny dot in front of the horizon grows larger,
becomes a Japanese brush stroke, becomes a four-pointed star.
It is Bashō. Across his shoulders rests a bamboo pole,
a straw basket on each end.
Near his hut, he sets down his load, crouches,
stares at the dust in the road.
I watch him as if at the edge of a painting.
I step through the frame and speak.

“I feel you have many answers.”
              “Sit, or stand, but be still.”
My face flushes and I remain silent.
               “Can you help me with these baskets?”
I nod and move toward the baskets.
They contain water.
“How do these baskets, with their holes
and cracks, hold water?”
               “The Earth, full of holes and cracks,
               holds water.”
Bashō places his palms on the sides of a basket.
The reflection of the moon ripples on the water.
               “There is the world:  water, dark sky, moon
               in a basket.  Tomorrow the sun will be in the basket.”
He slides his fingers into the water,
shattering the moon and sky like glass.
               “See what a human hand can do to the world.”

               *   *   *

Bashō sits on the ground untying a sack.
He motions for me to sit. I am silent, watching.
Finally, I speak. “You live simply.
You write and teach. The world praises you.”
               “Praise is the shiny fish
               that sparkles in water, uncaught.
               Once out of the water, it is dull.
               Only if you like to fish, keep fishing.”
“I know these things.”
               “If you are so wise, why do you seek me out?”
“You remind me of the way things are.”

               *   *   *

I ask Bashō to teach me the art of haiku.
               “Take three sticks. Cut one, then another;
               your eye will tell you when they are in balance.
               Sometimes you will end with three slivers
               that fall in dust to the ground.
               Haiku is the poetry of three sticks.”
He pauses.
               “The peony blossom is trying to tell you something.
               Study it. Watch it unfold.”

The hundred white petals of the peony
                            surround the secret,
              the unclenching fist
                            reveals an open palm.

               *   *   *

Bashō beckons me into his hut and prepares tea.
The straw mat creaks, knees bow low.
The sound of sipping.
“Here everything is calm.”
He waves a tablet of paper like a fan.
               “I write. I pray. I live on fish
               caught with a kite string.
               I sleep. It is enough.”
“You have no other needs?”
               “I like being alone.”


This poem won a Sri Chinmoy Poetry Award and was published in the Committee on Spiritual Poetry Anthology, 1980, and also appeared in the author’s books Sharing the Woods (Old Sandal Press, 1992) and Peeling an Orange (Modern English Tanka Press, 2009).