Tuesday Dec 12

stevemyers Steve Myers is the author of a full-length poetry collection, Memory’s Dog, and a chapbook, Work Site. His poems have recently appeared in various journals, including 5AM, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry East, and The Southern Review. The Basho haiku and bits of the Basho background narrative that appear in “Haibun…” are taken from the radiant Shambhala Classics edition of The Narrow Road to the Interior: and Other Writings, translated by Sam Hamill.

 

 

 

Haibun for Dancers with Lines from Basho
......................--for the Annex Dance Company

................................I.

................Between our two lives
................there is also the life of
................the cherry blossom

writes Basho, Japanese haiku master, in the late 17th century.
while in Massachusetts the settlers ventured into a “howling wilderness” of wolves
and wind-whipped gales, hammering the landscape from Canada or whirling clockwise
in from Labrador and the Atlantic, deluging them with rain, sending
their hammered windvanes spinning to all points on the compass
of the New Jerusalem—not-yet-Maine, not-yet-Pennsylvania, not-
yet-the plains, once the Great Inland Ocean, not-yet
Washington, its salmon-running rivers, not-yet-California.

And what did he mean, our two lives? The intersection
of the lives of woman and woman, or woman and man, or man and man,
beginning, as these dancers began, one erect and pivoting, across her hips the other, slung
on the horizontal, as if the first, eyes forward, might break
the circle, might carry that other body forward into the circle
of two others, or of four, or of the many beyond the door in the outspread
American night, both grateful, both full of the upwell of gratitude?

Or did he mean our own two lives? Basho, with his Knapsack
Notebook, shaved head, weather-beaten bones. Heart filled with autumn winds,
yearning to see the full moon over Mount Obasute. Basho the restless,
moving from hut to hut, his physical body, body of desire, body
devoured by lice and fleas—on one hand that life—the edge of a honed knife,
the road its grindstone, Edo to Ueno, Ise
to Nara, the far reaches of Honshu, the shores of Biwa.

Then at fifty, diminishment, fever, depression, the walking, as always in the end,
alone. That narrow road. That life. The interior.

And what is the life of the cherry blossom in between?

................................II.

................Grass for a pillow
................the traveler knows best how
................to see cherry blossoms.

When my friend the dancer lay where I lay as a boy,
in the thick grass by Lahaska Creek, under a gong-like summer sun,
its flat face whorled, metallic, shimmering, she could see
the water running in strands, eddying inward, spun bronze,
and the water beetles turning burnished circles, and the striders, balancing
on four tiny lenses where their hair-like legs touched the surface
stippled by browns and rainbows where it pooled in coves, by bluegill
fantailling the concave nests they’d fashioned in the streambed.

She could refresh her eyes in the cool darkness under the arc
of the fieldstone bridge. She could lift them above the fallow
farmland, the barn, the grain silo to the upswell of the mountain
that shadowed me, and still shadows me, its upward-coiling road,
limestone outcrops, stirrings in the understory. She could rinse
her dusty feet in the chill of the spring current, fed by snowmelt.

To the south and east, the cave, where in the ‘20s a hermit
fled from the railroad and the town meeting, as late in life
Basho bolted his hut’s gate against the world on the passing
of a favorite nephew. By the tracks that carried the New Hope
and Lahaska train, our neighbor, the entomologist, kept cecropia moth
caterpillars that fed on the leaves of mulberry saplings he swaddled
entirely in burlap. You could hear them chewing their corkscrew patterns,
never stopping. Spontaneous, brilliant, he knew a good joke
when he pulled one, or one was pulled on him in the midst of the myth
he was living: the Italian immigrant kid from South Philly,
the sultry South Carolinian wife, the Ivy League university, the promise, the future,
the death by hemmorhage in his mid-thirties.

West where the road crests, the African Methodist Episcopal Church
with its graveyard and modest steeple, directing the eye
still higher, above the dense oak-hickory canopy to the hawks
riding concentric circles of blue and bluer sky.

................................III.

................Things beyond number
................all somehow called to mind
................by blossoming cherries

Everything is connected, our great African-American
poet Lucille Clifton tells us over and over, and so it is. So this dance,
so these muscular forms moving alone
or in unison, bending low and then sweeping arms up
suddenly, as if broadcasting seed, or leaping, seeming at times
................to levitate before returning, the radius of one intersecting the radii
of others, angle and diagonal, point, node, line, vector; democracy
of the communal, sometimes hand in hand, eyes entering the communion
of the eyes of others, body touching, enfolding, then releasing the joy-laden
human body,

not the body forced, fearful, humiliated,
not the body, secreted away behind a grid of prison bars,
not the body manacled in irons and sold at auctions, as Clifton’s foremothers and fathers on
................ the blocks at Charleston;
not the body of the black hood and wooden box, of torqued limbs and twisted crucifixions,
not the body of the human pyramid,
not the body of planes and angles, hunger- or labor- or diseased ravaged,
not the body of woman, beaten, or the child beaten.

Spring now in Washington, and the tourists strolling the Tidal Basin,
the nurse, the surgeon, the war veteran with his proud cap,
the teacher and student, the welder and girder walker, out of work,
the clergywoman in her white collar, the girl in cornrows and hoop earrings,
trying to stay one lick ahead of her melting ice cream
at the foot of Lincoln.

In the famous photo of the Second Inaugural it’s easy to locate
the stovepipe hat, and above, on the balcony, the blurry
figure of Booth.

No one needs reminding that winter hanging over us,
even with the mercury headed for the 70s
according to the chirpy morning weatherman, though the news anchor
in the body of a sparrow puts her spin on it, adding the blossoms
photograph better with a background of overcast.

................................IV.

................My fan for a cup
................I drink from a downpour
................of cherry blossoms

The front moves in, and with it the warm rains.
Soon the downpour, and after, the cherry blossoms
spreading northward to Philadelphia, Manhattan island, Boston, Concord
watering the garden Thoreau first plowed for the Hawthornes as a wedding gift,
in the front yard of the home then owned by Emerson.

Everything’s connected,
these transcendant dancers tell us, displacing the air
that separates one from other, light as moths;
follow the ripples flowing out from them over oceans, continents, to faraway Nara,
where Basho watched a fawn being born in the shadow of the grand
Daibutsu Buddha—just like that, he wrote, awakened
by Awareness, crowing like a cock at dawn.

There’s a photo in the 365th Infantry Battalion’s souvenir booklet—
three American soldiers, feeding a Nara deer by hand after the leveling
of the two cities,
the firestorm that seared photographic images of cherry trees
into the flanks of buildings.

Young and vital as the cherries that blossomed in spring,
1945, my father shocked the Japanese prisoners on his watch
when he set down his copy of Emerson
and stepped into the line they’d formed, lifting
and passing pallets-full of heavy boxes alongside them,
the healthy body, pivoting at the hips, receiving, pivoting again to pass the burden on.

Between hand and hand, a whirl of blossoms. Between Ueno and Ido, knapsack
and notebook, prayer and labor, stream and mountain.

Between dance and dancer, for you, these blossoms.