The Rhythm of the Rower

Basho Matsuo (1644 – 1694)

The Rhythm of the Rower

Each stroke of his oars
Pulling the water
Sounded like “Basho, Basho,” to him,
The poet’s name itself
An abbreviated haiku of two syllables,
The poet’s voice, swept whisper,
Along the sides of his shell,
The poet’s voice pulling
His shell forward,

Until haiku intersected sonnet,
The sonnet of the river
Where Rilke‘s Orpheus dwelled,
Waiting for his otherworldly
Mermaid ascend with him.
Here the rower rowed
With hesitation so as not to chun
The water and send hurtling
Deeper into the Underworld
The poet’s heart,

Heart Cavafy took up
And rowed with
Toward the river’s mouth
That spoke the poet’s name
To the rower, to the beat
Of the rower’s rhythmic
Stroking, Cavafy’s mermen, muscular,
Breaking the surface of the muscular river,
Against which muscle the rower pulled,
The better to discipline his stroke;

Haiku flowing into sonnet,
Sonnet into poem,
Poem into rhythm
Of the rower, rhythmic,
Rower, rhythmic,
Rhythmic river.

Philip Kuepper
(July 2012)

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