After Basho

by James Davis May

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.