‘A Letter to Basho’ by Mark Fitzpatrick

soft cartel april 2018

“Not leaving my room,
I know the world.
Not gazing out my window,
I know heaven.

Travel far, know less.”

translation by Christo de la Expiracion
(Used with permission)

*

The train chugs to its pre-ordained stop,
drops me in my hometown Seymour early on a summer morning,
the green smell of freshly cut grass
and the soft sunlight, playful like childhood.

Hauling my suitcase which contains everything I am at present,
it gets heavier though fewer and fewer things are in it –
like my mind, burdened down by
this rather strange comparing of what is and what I really hunger for.

As I lug my suitcase to my father’s car,
would it be such a shock to run into myself
toting a fuller, weightier suitcase around this jolly corner?

That other me,
he wears the Hopi bandanna I lost,
the sandals from Brazil I always forget to pack,
the cross earring I thought looked so cool.
That dream me
who became a famous poet,
who used money wisely,
who actually learned to play a musical instrument,
who never missed an opportunity for love.

I can almost make out the characteristic hop to my step,
weight-lifting the suitcase onto the train,
happy voyager, heading off to somewhere else.

A true border crosser rather than a foreigner.

*

What does it matter if you are never what you dream and only half of what you live?
So what if you are so much less in the mirror than in your mind?

*

O Basho, have I travelled only to find the vanity of traveling?
(If I sinned more vigorously would I have tasted the true nastiness of sin?)
Have I yet to learn the ways of heaven?

*
Early on, passion for words totally possessed me.
Words have decorated my spirit like tattoos, images have resuscitated me from depressions deep as Sheol, metaphors have sprung my feet into dance. Lines have created chimeras, dreamscapes, fantasias —
out of an episode of my life, an epic leaps into being!
From my creation, a self is sustained.
*

You say a word like “barn” or “river” or “cascade.”
That word is like a boat skimming over the ocean called “Memory.”
The boat has a history; the people within, stories.
Worlds upon worlds enclosed in that boat,
in that one utterance.

You say a word like “summertime.”

And it is the season of 1981 when Bob Marley dies and you suffer the first major romantic heartbreak of your life.

Or it is the song from Porgy and Bess on the radio near the bed, lullabying you to sleep on a blistering hot Chicago night when you are so very sick.

Or it is the name of a restaurant in Hargeysa (outdoors like all restaurants in Somaliland) where for no explicable reason there is a huge lit-up info-graph photo of the Metro-North, the train that runs from New York City to Waterbury, the one that drops you in Seymour.

One word
with volumes of stories
and centuries of histories spiraling out of it.

*

A supreme word, O Basho?
Like an ocean that subsumes all other words?
A word that contains every poem and play and book and letter from every language in its very self?
A Big Bang word? An Adam Kadmon word?

All my writing, all my traveling — just an overwhelming desire to hear the one Word within all words?

Yet what if no such Word exists?

It is the only journey I have left to me, O Basho! It is all I have.

MARK FITZPATRICK is basically a poet although he has had fiction, non-fiction, and drama published. Among his credits are Parting Gifts, Oasis, The MacGuffin, Whiskey Island Review, The Small Pond Magazine of Literature, Oxford Review, Dramatic Shorts, Amarillo Bay and many others. His novel-in-verse was a finalist in the Tassy Walden Creative Writing for Young People contest. Two of his plays are in catalogues. Another play, “A Holy Thursday Lament” was recently published in Qu, the literary magazine of Queens University of Charlotte. This year, another play was a finalist in the Tennessee Williams Once Act Contest.

He works as an ESL teacher with ELS schools at the University of New Haven. He worked as an ESL teacher in Brazil, Honduras, Haiti, and the Republic of Somaliland. Before that he was a child care worker for over 20 years in a low-income, African-American neighborhood of Chicago.

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