mercy full

I see my eye

reflected in the surface

cloudy

of warm coffee

eyes distorted but

gaze unwavering

your knuckles are

dry and cracked

as they cup smooth

porcelain;

victims of your uncertainty

its too sweet. But

you don’t know

me like that yet so

i forgive you

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“Good morning, sunshine”

Silk underwear
discarded
like a growing mould against
cracked enamel bedpost.

The sun spills across
my bed as
the blinds cannot contain it
endeavour as they will to
console me,
to maintain this fragile
stillness.

The bed sheets are a
mess, skewed and twisted into
pale peaks and curls
hieroglyphs, symbols of a dead language.

Knees weak, I stand and
open the window a crack
but the unforgiving stench of
living, breathing bodies still
lingers obscenely.

Black coffee, cold.
Cloudy surface tainted only
by the fossilized pink mark
on porcelain rim.
This, too, is offensive, this
base mercy, this cruel pity.

 

April

ice in a glove
bluebells and cow parsley
dust in the corners of our eyes

early encroaching morning darkness
pregnant; an echo chamber

the trees were bare
shut out with finality
we took refuge in an
airless suspension

Upon a morning, a turn.
A heavy, cloying fragrance-
magnolia in bloom

arrogant, seductive, teasing
a terrible beauty.

As day gracefully took its leave
darkness would return, begging
on blended knees
a friend

transient solace.
The ecstatic blossoms never far
away, gratuitous
a strange vitality.

Sun spills through the window.
They drink their fill but we
hide in corners
speak in whispers with
eyes downcast

The Records of a Travel Worn Satchel: on the road to Japan

In a few days time, I will be in Japan. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to go to this country imbued with thousands of years of rich cultural history, my curiosity fed by Japanese authors such as Yusunari Kawabata, Haruki Murakami, Kenzaburo Oe and Yukio Mishima. The artist to really capture my heart, however, was Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Zen poet known for his beautifully simple and poignant haiku poems.

In his youth, Matsuo Basho was a servant to the wealthy Tōdō Yoshitada a participant in haikai no renga, where a group of poets would alternately compose short verses which made up part of a larger, collaborative composition. Having been exposed to poetry from a young age, Basho continued the art even after his master’s death,gradually gaining recognition in intellectual circles for his technical skill and poetic talent. For a time he lived an urban life in Ueno (modern-day Tokyo) but despite his popularity, Basho favored a reclusive one spent in nature rather than the bustle and chaos of city life, settling himself in Fukagawa. Throughout his lifetime, he amassed many zealous disciples who he taught and instructed, some of whom even built a house for him and planted a banana tree outside. So taken with the new tree, the poet took its name (芭蕉 bashō) to be his new haigo or pen name.

basho

Basho travelled extensively and often used what he saw as inspiration for his artistic work, best exemplified in his famous The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Travel Sketches. In it, he traces the journey where he walked all around rural Japan, covering around 1,500 miles over 156 days. In my 15 year old mind, Basho was the 17th century ascetic equivalent of Jack Kerouac. At one point on his travels, Basho stays overnight in the Ryushakuji temple of Yamagata famous for “the absolute tranquility of its holy compound”. During his stay, he is taken by its beauty, writing of how

The stony ground itself bore the colour of eternity, paved with velvety moss. The doors of the shrines built on the rocks were firmly barred and there was not a sound to be heard. As I moved on all fours from rock to rock, bowing reverently at each shrine, I felt the purifying power of this holy environment pervading my whole being.

In the utter silence
Of a temple,
A cicada’s voice alone
Penetrates the rocks.

In his other Travel Sketches including The Records of a Weather-Exposed Skeleton and The Records of a Travel-Worn Satchel, he similarly captures the beauty and simplicity of his environment and immersion in it. He is able to witness the passing of the seasons as well as the everyday lives of ordinary Japanese people around the country, clear in his observation of the people of Ueno, Tokyo.

At sunrise I saw
Tanned faces of fisherman
Among the flowers
Of white poppy.

The author and academic Nobuyuki Yuasa asserts that through his travels,

“Basho had been casting away his earthly attachments, one by one, in the years preceding the journey, and now he had nothing else to cast away but his own self which was in him as well as around him. He had to cast this self away, for otherwise he would not be able to restore his true identity (what he calls ‘the everlasting self which is poetry’)…) He saw a tenuous chance of achieving his final goal in travelling, and he left his house ‘caring naught for his provisions in the state of sheer ecstasy’.

Haiku are traditionally structured around two scenes that are then juxtaposed or brought together, allowing for a degree of ambiguity and an irresistible lightness, so included is a miscellaneous selection of some of my favorite of Basho’s poems as their sheer beauty and simplicity speaks for itself:

Spring’s exodus –
birds shriek,
fish eyes blink tears

Draining the sake
cask – behold,
a gallon flower-vase

Wake, butterfly –
it’s late, we’ve miles
to go together

Come, let’s go
snow-viewing
till we’re buried

Girl cat, so
thin on love
and barley