Richard Lehan

In Issue 8 on October 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm

With Basho in the San Joaquin

Gloria was at the wheel, back in her home state.
From the passenger seat I recited Basho, the poet
who renamed himself after the banana tree.

Isn’t that what poets do, compose their true identity?
Basho answered:
Year by year, the monkey’s mask reveals the monkey.

Traversing the San Joaquin in late summer,
our rental car bisected rows of alfalfa stretching across the valley floor.
The workday traffic swirled dust along the edges of the two-lane road,
obscuring the sun.

After a time we passed a derelict oil field;
amid the dead wells, one or two rusted derricks
continued to dip like metronomes.
Content and unencumbered,
we motored leisurely through the tattooed landscape.

But Basho remembered:
First winter rain – I plod on, traveler, my name.

Isn’t that what poets do, sojourn alone,
then partake in the company of those who open their words?

And Basho, appreciative of his audience, chose one that we especially liked:
Wearing straw cloaks, with spring saints greet each other.


Richard Lehan: “With Basho in the San Joaquin” was one of the poems that I worked on at the Glen Workshop, sponsored by Image journal, in Santa Fe, New Mexico in August 2011.

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