While Reading Bashō

      by Hayden Carruth

[excerpts]


comparative literary economics

Bash
ō, you made
           a living writing haiku?
                      Wow! Way to go, man.


it’s true

The night left flowers
           of snow in my plum tree. Now
                      the wind is rising.


names in the wind

Bash
ō, I like your
           real name. Matsuo. Mr.
                      Matsuo to us.

It has a certain
           ring, no? Yes. My real name is
                      Teddy Roosevelt.


saturday morning in mundane munnsville

It’s true, ignorance was . . . well, not exactly
bliss, but at least a comfort. I didn’t know
that a millennium of complicated literary
history, Chinese and Japanese, poetry, fiction,
and copious theory, came before Bash
ō.
For years I didn’t have to study it.


sharing

The snow falls. Bash
ō,
           we are very far apart,
                      and snow is falling.

I’m almost eighty,
           and as I watch the meadow’s
                      brown grass vanishing

beneath this whiteness
           how can I not share with you
                      the poignancy of

passing time?


history

A long time ago
           far back in the obscurest
                      recesses of time,

a poete innom-
           mable murmured his praise to
                      a twisted sapling

on a mountainside
           in Japan, and the scarcely
                      emergent human

spark of consciousness
           brightened like a gleaming leaf
                      in the forest. No

other occasion
           in all our lives has been as
                      important as this.


inexpressibility

Neither this brilliant
           intricate flower on my
                      hibiscus nor this

clump of words can say
           anything at all. Beauty
                      and sadness guide me,

inexpressible.
           I water the hibiscus,
                      and I play with words.


tea ceremony

I wonder, can you
           do it equally well with
                      vodka martinis


emphysema

Had you air, Bashō?
           I mean enough to climb those
                      mountains? Or did you

stop every ten steps,
           leaning on your staff and gasping
                      like a fish ashore?


bad days

Another awful day. Pain everywhere.
           Exhaustion. My spleen and kidneys shaking
from the cold. And yet I was embraced by my
           stunningly beautiful woman and by this
long-dead Japanese wonder-poet. Indeed
           even on the bad days good things happen.


a wonder

How astonishing
           at ten-thirty when the fog
                      burns off and reveals

The World!


the carved stone

Where Bashō had tea
           his famous “summer grasses”
                      swish now in the wind.


summer afternoon

Buddha triumphans.
           Meditating trees. Even
                      the goldfish are still.



Excerpts from “Bashō,” part five of Doctor Jazz, Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2001, pages 91, 93–96, 99, and 104.