By Kalev Pehme
Basho’s pupil paints a haiku so cruel.
He writes: “A red firefly/Tear off its wings/
A pepper.” Zen compassion, the rule
of syllables, moves his master. He sings:
“A pepper/Give it wings/a red firefly.”
The student’s image cannot be reversed.
Buddha does not suffer. The open eye,
its dark center, sees the red insect first.
The fruit is flightless; shining is the fire.
Calligraphy is happening; its art
is inky vine on silk paper; desire
is Tao that can’t be found inside the heart.
The bug flaps fruit, the fruit flutters to mate
in air. The seed is now, never echoes.
Basho leaves, road shoes, not to contemplate
the old pocked moon that needs no shine or glows.
Seventeen syllables are the steps through snow,
melting at the spring’s night into nothing.
Basho on the beach picks up shells, hollow.
Flies are flying. peppers are peppering.
You must go on living, although you are
alive. Basho sees no future. He’s blind.
A child runs out and hits him: “You’re it!” Far
away the girl runs to hide unconfined.
It is poetry after rhyme, modern.
Basho sinks into deep waters, no more
real than me as myth, as moonless nocturne
repeated in two realms of metaphor.
It’s been days since Basho has seen mortals.
A frog jumps. Cranes stick-walk. The pond hunters
make Basho hungry. He roams through the portals
of branches, domain of cuckoo chanters.
And finally he sees the drops of dew
from bolts of lightning flashes—here and there…
the withered field sparkles amidst the few
great oaks whose long living flowers find rare.
The heat is cleaved; the silence cut; cold wind
is loosed from the verdant dark vaporous summit.
We are both dreams wandering all thinned
in landscapes where birds in seas plummet.
Picking moth-white mushrooms on the green hill
of Zen, I grew feverishly ill, toxin
of enlightenment. Ah, Basho, the nil
of you and me is warmed in season’s sun.
The snow Buddha melts, cooling the warm day.
Fresh fish is grilling over coals. He eats.
When thirsty, Basho drinks. In faraway
islands, Basho walks to where the heart beats.
I am a turtle walking on the bank
of the mirror pond. He looks at his face
and sees me. He writes haiku where I sank
into the reflective waters of space.
It’s not winter, or spring, summer, or fall.
Soleil or moon shine not. There is no night,
or morning or afternoon. Overall
there are no more voiced syllables to write.
Basho dissolves like sugar in hot tea
to sweeten the taste of journeying back
to where he’s real enough to be calmly
flowering to the most fragrant lilac.
Hundreds of years later, an illusion
on a keyboard rhymes quatrains of verse
about Basho who in his seclusion
looked at a fly and found the universe.
Some fireflies light up in new autumn air,
the poets say. Just so! And the bronze bells
knell to and fro so silently elsewhere
while writing poems to where Basho dwells.