A Monk's Journey

“Moon and Bush Clover” by Tsutsui, Toshimine (1863-1934)
courtesan and monk,
we sleep under one roof together,
moon in a field of clover
~ Basho

Outside, apple blossoms glow in the dusk. She lies on her side, head propped up on a pillow, her eyes telling me that something important is coming, my eyes taking in the candlelight falling on her breasts.

“I need to know more about you,” she says.

“Do you mean about being a monk?”

“Yes, because right now you don’t seem very much like a monk.” She glances at my hand wandering slowly along the curve of her hip.

“You’re thinking about Christian monks, the ones who lived in dank cells, ate lentils and hard bread, the ones who whipped themselves. Think instead of Basho, the Japanese monk who traveled extensively, shared his poetry with peasants and samurai nobles, loved flowers, enjoyed the company of women, the warmth of taverns. Think more of a European troubadour with haiku as his song.”

I'm a wanderer
so let that be my name—
the first winter rain
~ Basho

“Does this mean that I’m just someone who happens to sleep with you?”

“No, but I’ve been a partner all of my life and for now I need not to be.”

“So what am I?” she asks. “I don’t know how to tell my friends whatever it is we’re doing. It feels like more than dating or having sex and it’s not friendship because I don’t sleep with my friends.”

how reluctantly
the bee emerges from deep
within the peony
~ Basho

“Can’t we simply enjoy what we have,” I reply.

“I’m reluctant to give up the feel of your skin against mine, but I’ll have to think about this.” She pecks a kiss, dresses and leaves.

A week later her note arrives: “I have such good memories of our moments together. It’s a gift to desire and be desired, but we need such different things.”

winter seclusion—
sitting propped against
the same worn post
~ Basho

~ end ~

Author’s comments:

This haibun is my text intertwined with translations of Basho’s haiku and headed by Toshimine’s artwork. It was first published in the journal Simply Haiku.

I thought of this piece as a conversation with two Japanese artists: the haiku by Matsuo Basho, based on his work and poetic sensibilities while living as a traveling poet-monk in 17th century Japan and the woodblock print by “Moon and Bush Clover” by Tsutsui, Toshimine (1863-1934) which he painted on a fan.

Unless we’re Japanese scholars and/or citizens and/or zen practitioners or students of Japanese woodblock art, it’s unlikely we can understand the full illusions and sensibilities of Basho’s poetry and Toshimine’s artwork. Still, his words as translated speak to me and fit my sensibilities as a man growing up in 20th century North America, and in particular, one who found himself immersed in the “dating game” several years after a painful divorce. And there I was, once again, “in seclusion, sitting propped against the same worn post.” In case you’re worried, I’m fortunately paired up now with a wonderful gal who has a firm hold on my heart.


All haiku are by Basho. The translations above were found at website titled “Basho” and cited R.H. Blyth, W.J. Higginson, J. Reichhold and Sam Hamill as translators of various haiku.

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