Narrow Road to the North

by Mary Ruefle

Tonight is the night of the full untrustworthy moon.

My nails grow long while writing this.

Bashō thought a good life was spent picking up

horse chestnuts from off the ground.

Would he have picked up ordinary chestnuts?

I wonder why, since people weep at monuments,

they don’t weep when they see ordinary stones.

When a stone is wedged between the cleats

of my boot, I remove it with my chopsticks.

Sometimes they break. Truly it wakes you up.

But Bashō thought you had to see the whole pine.

He was also resigned to leaving his body behind

in a forsaken area, but stayed mostly in inns.

When Bashō wrote

What a loss is here:

Beneath the warrior’s splendid helmet

A chirping cricket

I thought he meant the man’s brain.

I hat sandals. They have a mate.

Bashō did not travel alone, he has Sora.

He even wrote on his hat I travel with a friend.

When I first read the words

I thought he meant his sorrow.

Such are the changes of years

and my pitiful life compared to his

as any duck in flight can see.

From Trances of the Blast, Seattle: Wave Books, 2013, pages 95–96.