After Basho


Because pointing at the frog is enough motion to scare the frog away, a man and a woman place a pair of weather-beaten chairs by the little stone pond in the driveway of their rented cabin— they are on vacation, trying to get pregnant— and wait, “like Buddhist monks,” she says, for the frog to reemerge from the pixilated water. The man has yet to imagine his child’s face. He’s not even sure whether he’d prefer a boy or a girl, and with a feigned but private detachment, tells himself that any wants during the process (they may not conceive, after all) will lead to regret, and since he can’t control things he won’t worry about them. But something about that feels like trying to will a telephone to ring by not thinking about it— he used to do that in high school while waiting for a girl to call, and again and again he’d catch himself glancing at the phone, or, more often, he’d wish he were by the phone instead of with his parents, as on the Saturday night in late August when his father pulled into a field under a clear sky, got out of the car, and walked fifty yards into the waist-high wheat to gaze up at the comet he’d waited all summer to see. The man remembers telling his father that the purple cloud of light looked like a big, beautiful fingerprint smudge and then asked if they could go home. Irony, he thinks, was the only way to hurt his father, and it’ll probably be the weapon his child will choose to hurt him with too— so he imagines refuting his own child, telling him or her that irony and sarcasm can’t express wonder. How do you plan to praise? he’ll ask. And, at what will no doubt be rolled eyes or a turned back, he’ll add that there’s nothing brave in tearing down the world. Loving the world, now that’s brave. By now the woman realizes her husband doesn’t see the frog glistening on the rock. She nudges him, but it’s already gone.

JAMES DAVIS MAY poems have appeared in Five Points, Green Mountains Review, New England Review, The New Republic, Pleiades, Tampa Review, and elsewhere. He received the 2013 Collins Award from Birmingham Poetry Review. The former editor of New South, he lives in Decatur, Georgia, where this past year he served as Writer-in-Residence at Agnes Scott College.