BANANA SKIES
Scene 3

Screen:
Just the same only the other end of the screen has been moved back creating a new angle.

Lights:
instead of lights dimming at the end of Scene Two they now simply become brighter with more spots a warmer glow as if the day is warmer.

Time:
Afternoon of May 20th, 1689.

SORA

(Staring at a sight before him)

In olden times, the name of this mountain was written as "ni-koh" using the Chinese characters for "two" and "wild', but when the Saint Kukai built a temple here, he changed the characters to "Nik-koh" meaning "sun" and "light". He must have foreseen what would happen a thousand years later.

(pauses)

BASHO

Now the honorable light of the Tokugawa rule illuminates the firmament, and its benefits reach into every corner so we all may live in peace.

SORA

(distainfully)

Augh, cut out the political stuff, Bash. I am filled with such awe I hesitate to write a poem.

BASHO

(reciting)

how glorious
young green leaves
flash in the sun

 

(he takes off his jacket, stuffs it in his pack)

SORA

(obviously in another mental space absently rubs his shorn head as he removes the knitted hat under his straw hat. He looks back off- stageright. He begins to recite)

with my head shorn
I come to Mount Black Hair
my day for changing to summer clothes.

BASHO

(looks at Sora with disapproval)

SORA

(dropping his head)

It's not a very good poem, is it?

BASHO

It was well-linked with the idea of the contrast between your bald head and Black Hair Mountain and the addition of contrasting your "enlightened" head with the day we traditionally begin wearing lighter summer clothes but...

SORA

Two personal pronouns in one verse.

BASHO

Three.

(From around the curtain's left side comes the INNKEEPEReeper. Super salesman type. Wearing power clothes of whatever style.)

INNKEEPER

Good day gentlemen. My name is Honest John and I am your renown host AND spiritual guide as you enter the Home of the Holiest Shrines. You will be needing a room? We have the Deluxe Pilgrims' Unit , a separate cottage with housekeeping, in-room meals, a masseuse, hot tub and your personal astrology advisor meets with you

(at this point he looks the visitors up and down)

or there is the dormitory facility

(SORA and BASHO exchange looks of dismay).

If you don't mind raking up pine needles and sweeping the paths, you can have the grounds keeper's cabin. He quit three days ago.

(looks around the floor)

The place is a mess...

(Moving back a step from the INNKEEPER, SORA and BASHO put down their packs, arranging their things as if in a room where they will be staying for some time. The INNKEEPER "invades" this space as the two work around him and his invasive monologue.)

INNKEEPER

The jobs are easy and you'll still have lots of time to roam around to see the sights. This is a very scenic place. Very close, just up behind the local shrine is a waterfall. Behind it is a cave. In summer monks and others perform austerities by sitting naked in there behind the falls. It's a wonder they don't all die of pneumonia.

BASHO

(striking a holy pose)

for awhile
secluded behind the waterfall
summer retreat begins

SORA

The poem is full of you.

BASHO

But you will notice I avoided the use of a personal pronoun.

SORA

It doesn't make a difference.

BASHO

Oh, yes it does. It's the difference between poetry and personal narrative, drivel, doggerel.

INNKEEPER

(ignoring their conversation)

You must take care if you venture out on the grassy moor. It is wider than it looks. Distances can fool you. You may think you can easily hike to a distant village but at nightfall you'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere. Your best bet is to stay at a farmer's house -- the one with a daughter.

(laughs alone at his own joke)

One guy did

(now BASHO and SORA give him their attention)

but he still had a long way to walk so he borrowed the farmer's horse, also. This guy has a regular racket out there, hiring out his goods to stranded tourists. No matter where the horse is taken, he knows his way home. The girl, too. Her name is Manifold.

SORA

That's a strange name.

(SORA is now giving the INNKEEPER all his attention as if wanting more information on the daughters of the region.)

INNKEEPER

Strange, but strangely beautiful. As are so many things in this region. Have you heard of the dog-shooting grounds?

(BASHO and SORA evidence disbelief)

Yes, it's true. The military invented the sport. So the archers could practice on live targets. Yeah, they'd keep these dogs out there, not give them any food for a couple days, if they were female, to make 'em hungry. If they had male dogs, all they needed was to let loose a hot bitch on the far side of the grounds. As those dogs raced across the flat moor, the arrows would sing out.

(He looks around to see that SORA and BASHO are appalled so he quickly adds)

Made soup out of 'em. Nothing was wasted.

(Now both SORA and BASHO look a bit sick so he quickly changes his subject.)

This area is famous for its archers. Yoichi came from here. You never heard of him? In 1183 he shot AND HIT a fan suspended from a boat. That was in the battle of Yashima. Made him famous all over the country. Yes, we've got lots to see here. There is the tomb of Lady Tamamo. You know her?

(By now SORA and BASHO are stretched out, ready to rest, if the INNKEEPER would shut up and let them alone.)

INNKEEPER

You know they say she was really a fox. Maybe just a foxy lady. Anyhow she was the emperor's favorite concubine. That is, until a priest blew her cover. She escaped and hid out here. She was one bitter woman. When she was going to die she wanted so bad that her anger live on that she turned herself into the Murder Stone. Yeah, really. Yet to this day, anything that goes near that rock dies. You can still go out there. You can hardly see the ground. So many dead insects and butterflies and bees pile up there. Awful place. A dark corner of the mountain.

You know the founder of the Shugen sect came from here? That was in the seventh or eighth century. Yeah, he traveled all over this place. Because of the marshy ground, he had special clogs made on real high platforms to keep his feet dry while he stood and preached.

BASHO

a summer mountain
I pray to the wooden clogs
at my departure

SORA

(dryly)

Three extra syllables and two personal pronouns.

BASHO

letting the mountain
move into the garden
a summer room

INNKEEPER

(catching on to and invading SORA and BASHO's exchange)

Hey, are you two writers?

(without waiting for an answer)

We used to have a priest. What was his name? Bacco, Becko, Bucco. Something like that. He lived back in the mountains. He used to save the charcoal from his nightfire. He wrote poems all over a big rock. All his poems written in charcoal on a rock. His whole life's work on a rock. But then it rained.

(All are silent before this thought.)

His cabin is still there.

BASHO

(introspectively)

I'd like to go there. I would pin a poem on the wall.

even woodpeckers
do not damage this hut
a summer grove

SORA

(seems too moved by BASH's verse to correct it. But then he rouses himself to say)

That's even better than my favorite. The one you wrote for the farmer who loaned his horse to you and then asked you for a verse. How does it go?

across the field
the horse pulls toward
the cuckoo

BASHO

(speaking to the INNKEEPER)

I'd like to see the willow where the famous tanka poet Saigyoh wrote "spreading its shade over a crystal stream." Is that still...?

INNKEEPER

Yeah, over in Ashino. It's a long walk. There's only rice paddies around now. But those fields are full of girls just now. It's planting time and all the women inthe district are out there. I can't even get anyone to cook or clean for me.

(This reminds him of his duties and without saying good-bye he barges off stage left.)

BASHO

(has his eyes closed)

one patch of a rice field
when it was planted I leave
the willow

SORA

(sits up. Thinks about the poem a moment. They look at each other and laugh)

Blackout

Scene Four

Screen:
is moved to a new place at up stage right

Lights:
overhead only on the area just in front of the screen.

At Lights Up:
(BASHO and SORA can be seen still in the position they were when Scene 2 ended. They are not lighted but they can be seen picking up their gear, putting on their packs. They slowly "hike" back to the screen, going to the left corner where they enter the lighted area.)

SORA

It's getting easier isn't it?

BASHO

My mind seems to have a certain balance and composure. I'm no longer victim of those anxiety attacks.

SORA

A mild sense of detachment?

BASHO

Not completely. I've very aware of the other poets who have come to this border. Their feelings of "crossing over" which they left in their poems; this is with me.

SORA

I'm more aware of the cold. Seems autumn is here already.

BASHO

The many white flowers in the hedges along the path feel like early snow.

SORA

(stopping to get out his jacket)

Wait a minute while I dig out my jacket.

BASHO

According to others' diaries, the ancients, when they passed through here, they got dressed up in their finest clothes.

(BASHO muses while SORA puts on his jacket. Then SORA writes down a poem in his notebook and then reads it.)

SORA

My hair decorated
with white blossoms at the barrier
my only gala garment

BASHO

Two pronouns and this constant interest in your hair, or the lack of it.

SORA

Well, I don't see you writing your regulation crossing-the-barrier poem.

(Silence as they slow step "hike" past the middle of the screen.)

SORA

Are we going to stop at Shadow Pond? The guidebook says...

BASHO

It reflects whatever it sees. With these gray skies I have enough gray skies. Forget the pond.

(BASHO walks with his head down. SORA keeps looking around in awe and wonder.)

SORA

Hey, is that someone waving at us?

BASHO

(squinting into the distance)

Are we near Sukagawa? I used to know a poet-guy there. Can't remember his name. Energetic old cuss. That's probably him. What's his name? Just like him to come charging up the mountain destroying our peace.

TOKYU

(comes bustling from the left edge of the curtain toward BASH and SORA. SORA pulls away from BASH as TOKYU is only interested in BASHO and cuts SORA out. But SORA is happy to leave BASHO in TOKYU's grasp. Much greeting is mimed with bowing and gestures of introduction.)

Well, well, well. How did you fare crossing at the barrier?

BASHO

Without incident.

TOKYU

Without incident? You mean nothing of note occurred? No mountain top experience? How tragic! What did you use as subject for your barrier crossing poem?

BASHO

(silent)

TOKYU

Don't tell me you didn't write one? The greatest teacher of linked verse poetry in the whole land goes through one of the most memorable places and felt NOTHING?

BASHO

(looks him directly in the eye to say distinctly in a monotone)

I was absorbed in the wonders of the surrounding countryside...

TOKYU

That alone should have inspired you to write MANY verses!

BASHO

...And the recollections of the ancient poets.

TOKYU

Oh yes, that. Sometimes I can't write either if I dwell on the glorious words from the past. But still the experience. The MOMENTS. The strangeness of standing at the exact point -- the peak where two landscapes collide. There so close...

BASHO

(threatening and yet secretively)

Knock it off, will you? I'm an old man. Because I am an old man my legs get more tired. My feet are even older and they walked up AND down this damned mountain.

TOKYU

All you need to get you inspired again is the thrill of getting together with the poets of our region. That'll take your mind off of all that. I've arranged for them to meet at my house tonight. Surely by then you will have thought of a beginning stanza for our linked poem we hope to write with you. If we write less than three sets during your visit, I'll be very disappointed. Let's see... we'll have saki and sushi.

( he steps slightly ahead of BASHO and SORA.)

SORA

(runs up, taps BASHO on the shoulder and reads to him from his notebook.)

roots of elegance
on this trip to the far north
rice-planting song

BASHO

(He looks at SORA with new friendship.)

Thanks. Thanks, pal.

Blackout

Scene Five

Screen:
is stage center behind the pines.

Lights:
Just one narrow overhead spot shines down on the floor at the right corner of the screen.

At Lights Up:
(Both BASHO and SORA are sitting on the floor as if the light is a campfire. They drink saki from their canteens as they reminisce. BASH has his notebook open.)

BASHO

Yes, yes, here it is. What I wrote when I found the priest living alone under that huge ancient chestnut tree.

(He looks up from his book as he recalls in memory the experience.)

When I stood in front of that tree, I felt as if I were in the midst of the deep mountains where the old poet Saigyo had picked nuts. Ah. Here's what I wrote: The chestnut is a holy tree, for the Chinese ideograph for chestnut is "tree" placed directly below "west" the direction of the Holy Land Buddha came from. The ancient priests are said to have used chestnut limbs for walking sticks and the main support for houses.

men of this world
fail to find the flowers
chestnuts under the eaves

SORA

(quietly)

Were you thinking more of the tree or the priest?

BASHO

I'll answer that by saying

(and he reads again)

In the hills were many scattered pools. There is a species of iris, very rare, so I went to look for it! I went from pool to pool. I asked every soul I met where I could find it. But strangely enough, no one had ever heard of it.

SORA

(after a pause)

And the poem?

BASHO

(continuing)

The next morning I went to the village famous for the stone on which they pattern cloth by rubbing fern leaves across its unusual design. I found the great stone in the middle of the village. I was led there by a child guide. But the stone was half-buried in the ground. The child said it used to be up on the mountain side but so many travelers came to see it and in so doing they trampled the farmers' crops so it was rolled down and its exquisite pattern hidden away.

picking up rice seedlings
hands move in the days of old
ferns of remembrance

SORA

(dryly)

The poem doesn't fit.

BASHO

Too bad. I like it.

(flips over several pages and finds a place to resume reading)

This was the site of the old warrior's house. I could not refrain from weeping. In a remote temple were the tombs of the Sato family. Again I wept bitterly as I remembered the two young wives, how they dressed up their frail bodies in armor after the death of their husbands.

SORA

(pulls up his legs, curls into a ball to reject BASHO's line of narrative.)

And?

BASHO

I went into the temple for a drink of tea. Among the treasures were the sword of Lord Yoshitsune and the backpack of Benkei, which he had carried...

SORA

(sitting up as he becomes interested)

Benkei was always one of my heroes.

BASHO

...a priest more interested in military affairs than preaching.

SORA

Lord Yoshitsune had to beat him up in a fight before Benkei would be his companion.

BASHO

Is that we need to do?

(as he says this, he juts out his foot to kick SORA on the sole of his boot. SORA returns a kick to his shoe but misses hitting BASHO's knee. BASHO grabs his knee howling in pain. SORA gets up to kneel by BASHO to see how he is hurt. BASHO grabs SORA --his pain was a ruse -- and they begin to tussle. They roll into the darkness behind the tub of pine trees. Fighting sounds can fade to sounds of a sexual encounter. Depending on the audience, the actors can determine how realistic this scene is portrayed.)

Lights dim to almost a blackout.

At Lights Up:
(BASHO is sitting at the left side of the pines. He sits alone in a small beam of light that filters through the pines. SORA lies asleep with his head close to the left corner of the screen. He is mostly in the dark.)

BASHO

(writing)
backpack and sword
                        (pause)
with paper fish banners
decorated in May

(He turns a page and stares at it, then begins to write again.)

My heart lept with joy when I finally saw the celebrated pine of Takekuma. It is exactly as described by ancient writers. Yet one poet wrote of his grief when the tree was cut down -- a governor used it as a bridge piling. It must have been replanted, cut, planted again and now things are as they were a thousand years ago.

(He flips back to the front of his book, mumbling as he searches for a page.)

It is here somewhere. I know Kikaku wrote a poem for us just before we left. What was it he said? Here. Here it is.

though in decline
late cherry show the master
Takekuma's pine

(pauses)

How could he know?

(Under Kikaku's poem he writes one)

since  the cherry blossoms
I’ve waited three months to see
the twin-trunk pine

Blackout

Continue to Scene Six .

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