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Basho Beside the Mountain

There was this message
From K’en Lee’s nephew to his father’s brother—
Or was it to his father’s brother’s wife?
Walking beside the mountain,
It occurred to him that he was very small
And somewhat stupid.


The mountain watched him as he moved:
Slow dot around the giant base.


A cormorant pierced the smooth
Silk-sheen of water under the mountain.
Basho held his breath, went down with him
Down and down, hunting.
His head began to pound. Red faced
He suddenly blew it all out.

It’s clear I could never be a cormorant, he said.


Basho flopped down
On a rustic bridge. There were a few
Fat carp dodging among the weeds.
K’en Lee’s nephew came by.

Why are you looking down with such intensity—
Do you seek Enlightenment in water?

Neck’s tired, Basho said—
Been looking too long
At that bloody mountain.   


When the harlot confronted Basho
Her jasmine smell almost undid him.
As they undressed he was amazed
At the loveliness of her flanks, the way
Her small breasts bobbled when she laughed.
There are two kinds of harlot, Basho said.

For the first I have the images of
Spring water pelting over rocks,
A gazelle, a pitcher brimming with honey.
And for the second?

I find it difficult to think about such people, Basho said.

Then he pinned her to the mountain.
All afternoon.

Afterward it was very simple.

There was the mountain over them, and under them.
There was the bellsound winding over the lake.
And there was jasmine.


At about the fortieth twist
In the mountain road
A drunken bandit came at him.
Empty your pockets, he said.

I’m a poet, Basho said.
I live off other people’s money.

The bandit lunged at him.

Basho kicked him in the cods. Stalked on.


Very well, I’ll tell you the Thousand Things, said Basho.

There’s bird’s wing, the smell of it,
There’s the grain of rice that eats you,
Jasmine petals on the executioner’s sleeve.
There’s knock of water against the keel, the drum at the center.

Certain wines whose bouquets drift into eternity.

There’s also rock which is what it is,
The uncommitted bandit who is what he is not
There are dragons that seem mountains
And mountains that seem dragons

And finally, there’s the mountain.
That’s not a thousand!

Damn right it is, said Basho. Count them again.


Basho’s wife said:
            Where have you been all day?

Pinning a harlot to the mountain.

You, bag of bones? Your head’s so full of dreams
You couldn’t tell a woman from a turkey.

Perhaps it was the jasmine, Basho said.

But his wife, stirring a pot, didn’t hear him.


After his descent from the mountain
Basho wrote three poems.
The poems were:


A wind-blasted gull
Grips the
Crow’s nest:
The pine bends as the earth


Floods my window:
If a friend looks in tonight
He’ll darken me.   


Unbroken light on the lake.
The cormorant’s hunting.
Heavens, four hours!

Basho read these poems to his wife.

    Nothing important
    Can be done
    In seventeen
she said.