Bashō at Kokubuyama

I’m just a mountain dweller, sleepy by nature, who has returned his footsteps to the steep slopes and sits here in the empty hills catching lice and smashing them.
— Bashō

Bashō, sickening to death, lousy,
worn out from walking the country
and sleeping in flea-ridden dorms,

Bashō, weary of society, weary
of dealing with people,

Bashō, closer to fifty
than forty,

sat in a hut by the roadway
and gave himself entirely
to poetry (and the smashing of lice)

The epigraph is from “The Hut of the Phantom Dwelling”, translated by Burton Watson, in The Essential Haiku, edited by Robert Hass, New York: HarperCollins, 1994, pp. 55-58. The quoted passage is on p. 57.


The other day
I had to call Vodafone and talk
to a human
He said his name was Royston
He spoke clearly and carefully
His English was very good
Even though I’m a native
I understood
every word
He took in what I said
and didn’t interrupt
He was helpful
friendly but not too familiar
and probably getting paid

The next day Vodafone
or perhaps its agency
Another young man
with very good English
reading from a script
He asked me to rate
out of 10
on his knowledge
his manner
and how satisfied I was

At first I tried to be honest
Gave him 8
for knowledge
since I’d had only
a taste
But then I thought
about what it might mean
for Royston
A human

I gave him 10 for the rest

If only they’d ask me to rate
their menu system!
To get next to Royston
takes several minutes
Hi! I’m Lisa! goes the computer
Tell me what you’re looking for!
My tongue
doesn’t have
the appropriate
I’m fighting through a hedge with a blunt knife
I’m trying to make friends
with a psychopath
It refers to itself as “me”
as if it has
lovely hair
a pretty smile
and a brain full of facts
Its Aussie-girl voice has been bought
from some agency
and chosen to satisfy
not a middle-aged straight
smart woman
but the more important

In the 21st century
if you go to a brothel
do they ask you afterwards
to rate out of 10
the prostitute’s knowledge of sex
her friendliness
and how satisfied you were

The shadow

There goes my shadow
The one I may not be
The homeless
The rentless
at no address
Owing nothing
to anyone
Not mattering
to anyone
Some days
it’s freedom
It depends
on the weather
of the city
and the body

     Go away, shadow.
     I don’t need your songs.

There sits my shadow
The one I must not be
The haggard tramp in ancient black
The smoke-mouthed
The wine-tongued
The gland-
The vagrant-

     Let me be, shadow.
     I’m only a student! Stop begging.

There lies my shadow
The one I cannot be
on a bunk
Spreading out
its stale stuff
Its socks
Its sacks
Its dark
Online all night
Asleep all day

     Go home, shadow.
     You can’t share my room.

Here comes my shadow
The one
I will not be
the door wide
the cold
Casting around
its umbral eyes
Is there a pub around here
it slurs

     C’mere, shadow!
     Come here.
     If you dare.