Sick on a journey
my dreams wander
the withered fields
In an old notebook were the beginnings
of a poem about Basho’s last poem, the one
he composed while he died. In the notes,
the speaker walks from 31st Street to 17th
in Manhattan and remembers Basho’s lines.
He is visiting the city in summer with his brother
who has stayed in the hotel, tired of the heat.
The notes say this, and the first line
of the would-be poem is: Walking hot streets,
I think of Basho. The poem wants to follow
the speaker as he passes kabob carts
and a group of college kids with clipboards
soliciting signatures. The notes say that the poem
should quote Basho’s death poem like a refrain,
that the speaker should be made to feel
momentarily sick, or lost, walking unfamiliar
streets in the heat, hungry for a journey
he didn’t know he wanted. Every time
the speaker steps he thinks of his brother
napping in the cool hotel room and Basho’s dreams
in the field, wandering. All of this is in the notes.
But really the speaker is nothing like Basho,
and death is incomparable to a hot city walk, so
the unwritten poem gets it wrong, and Basho’s
death poem stays singular and unparalleled,
while the speaker of the non-poem keeps walking
through Union Square Park and on toward
the Lower East Side. No end to the walking because
the notes won’t make it into a poem.
Distance increases, the speaker moves off
the map and disappears into the East River, the heat
becomes unbearable, and the brother continues
dozing, oblivious and satisfied with
non-existence in a wandering dream.
Mike Bove is the author of two books of poems: Big Little City (2018) and House Museum (2021). His work has appeared in journals in the US, UK, and Canada, and he was the winner of the 2021 Maine Postmark Poetry Contest. He holds degrees from the University of New Hampshire and is an Associate Professor of English at Southern Maine Community College. Mike lives with his family in Portland, Maine, where he was born and raised.