milky way

by  Don Baird    

Please listen to Don Baird read his reflection.

I've dreamed of wandering with the Master Wanderer.  I've pondered over his poems in wonderment and fantasy, both. How often I've whispered, "what would it be like to take a road trip with Basho?"  Would it be as enchanting as it reads in his journals?  Or would my soon to be weather-beaten skin and brow lead me to peril and early death?  Could I learn to view the world through his eyes, yet mine?  Could I find the blanks he missed: could I notice even one small life that he didn't?

first few steps . . .
a hungry mosquito
lands its song2

He died at 50.  He was young: he was old.  In spite of illness, he forged forward, continuing his emersion into the Tao and all of its wonders.  His voice and poetry permeate my imagination:

"Thoughts of the three thousand leagues before me dammed up in my heart, and at the crossroads of unreality, tears of departure flowed."~ basho

departing spring
birds cry, in the fishes
eyes are tears1

yuku haru ya / tori naki uo no / me wa namida

Basho was emotionally overtaken by this moment of leaving.  Nearly losing control of his reality, he saw everything through the blur of his own tears.  He was departing; Spring was departing; he was tearing, lost in a barrage of overwhelming feelings that welled up in his heart.  He turned away to once again continue his sojourn.

turning . . .
a crow unsettles,

"People lined the road behind, watching until our backs were mere shadows."1 Basho continues the story of his journey and imagination.  He saw things from his eyes: he saw things from theirs.  "Until our backs were mere shadows"1 is not anything he could have seen.  But, it was something he could imagine - a knowing - through his keen perspective of nature, zoka, and the mystery of being.

"For now the radiance of this mountain shines throughout the heavens, its blessings extending through the eight directions . . . and at peace.  And still more—but it's all so awesome, I can only lay aside my brush."~ basho

unfinished —
the winds of his brush
turn away2

Overwhelmed, Basho could only set his brush aside.  He feared that he would diminish what he was seeing if he wrote about it, or painted it.  He was living in a perpetual presence of respect and awe as he backpacked his final journey.

And then, he wrote this nearly sanctified hokku in the most fresh, engaging language that alludes to zoka and the transformation of all things:

so holy:
green leaves, young leaves,
in sun's light1

ara tooto / aoba wakaba no / hi no hikari

His continuum of deep feeling and gratitude brought him to write about "radiance, the Eight Directions – announcing it's "all so awesome [that] I can only lay aside my brush."1 He didn't exclaim that he made a sudden discovery.  Not-at-all.  But rather, he revealed that his hokku emerged from his heart and soul through an ever-engaging, powerful sense of awe.

Overjoyed, Sora (a travelling companion) "shaved his head, put on ink black robes, and changed the characters used for his name to those meaning 'spiritual enlightenment'."1 ~ basho

by any name —
the 'eight directions' called
his shadow2

"The ridge dropped a hundred feet into an azure pool dotted with a thousand stones.  Sidling into the overhang, one views the waterfall from the back side"~ basho

Basho and his friend paused behind the waterfall for a short time in a tucked away spot of leisure.  He wrote the following hokku:

for a while
secluded at a waterfall ­–
start of the summer retreat1

shibaraku wa / taki ni komoru ya / ge no hajime

The area is beautiful.  The waterfall is peaceful and a perfect spot to gather one's energy and thoughts.  It was changing season; it was a new beginning for Basho and his journey.  Where is the ah-haa!?  Where is the "suddenness" thought to be found in haiku?  Where is the whack on the head we've come to expect today?  It isn't there, once again.  Basho wrote about a secluded waterfall; he wrote about the beginning of a summer retreat; and, he alluded to his remaining behind the waterfall for a bit to rest and enjoy. He was once again, and most appropriately, in a state of awe - or as he put it, "awesome".

"Two children came running along behind the horse.  One was a little girl named Kasane, a truly elegant name I'd never heard before."~ basho

"There's a temple for mountain ascetics called Koomyoo.  We were invited there and worshipped in the Hall of the Ascetic."~ basho

Basho was a nomad that noticed everything.  He was spiritual.  His awareness was keen.  Children ran up to him: he stopped to acknowledge them.  He learned their names and even mentioned in his journal how "elegant" one of the young girl's name is.  He's "never heard it before,"1 he wrote.

He was simple.  He was sensitive.  He was responsive to his environment - attuned.  He was not reactive and, in particular, he was not over-reactive.  Ah-haa wasn't how Basho responded nor was it how he wrote.  Basho wrote patiently.  He was methodical and continued to work on his poetry throughout his life.  To him, nothing was finished.  He was always emerging.  A deep sense of spirit encapsulated his internal presence of a constant appreciation of the Universe and its Way(s).

folding cranes —
he folded his heart
along with2

"Deep within Unganji Temple is the site of the mountain hermitage of Priest Butchoo."~ basho

a grass-thatched hut
less than five feet square:

"Wondering where the hut was, we climbed up the mountain behind the temple, and there it was, a tiny hut atop a boulder and built onto a cave.  It seemed like Zen Master Miao's Barrier of Death or monk Fayun's Stone Chamber."~ basho

even woodpeckers
don't damage this hut:
summer grove1

kitsutsuki mo / io wa yaburazu / natsu kodachi

Basho continued on his journey with poems from Kiyohaku and himself.  He writes,  "now the image of a thousand years, truly an auspicious tree."Kiyohaku responded to the moment with this hokku to Basho:

the takekuma pine:
show it to him,
late blooming cherries3

Basho responded with:

since the cherries bloomed,
I've longed to see this pine:
after three months passage1

They are both in awe of this great pine. "Time and again pines have been cut down . . ."~ basho. In the midst of their excitement there still wasn't an ah-haa.  Where is this mysterious response?  Is it that juxtaposition is actually revealing a condition of awe?  Are there both?

in awe . . .
I too experience
this pine2

"Yet now before this monument (Tsubo Stone Monument), which certainly has stood a thousand years, I could see into the hearts of the ancients.  Here is one virtue of the pilgrimage, one joy of being alive.  I forgot the aches of the journey, and was left with only tears."~ basho

summer grass —
all that remains
of warriors dreams1

stillness —
penetrating the rocks,
a cicada's cry1

gathering all
the summer rains, swift
Mogami River1

"I set off once again by boat to worship during the ritual rebuilding at Ise."~ basho

like a clam from its shell,
setting off for Futami Bay:
departing fall1

Basho turns one last time, in awe . . .

a new sojourn;
leap-frogging the Milky Way,
the sound of Basho2

1.  Basho's Journey, David Landis Barnhill, State University of New York Press, Albany,     2005; Copyright: State University Press

2.  Don Baird, Copyright 2013

3.  Kiyohaku (wrote the parting poem to Basho) (Basho responded and continued on his     journeys; page 58, Basho's Journey, David Landis Barnhill.