Basho Was a Ninja

by | Oct 25, 2011 | Poetry

for Mioko Watanabe


Basho was a ninja, Mioko says.

Basho an assassin? Ninjas were more

like spies. They worked for samurai.


It would explain his travels:

he moved impossibly fast. But he seems

so frail—  What better mask for a spy?


Christopher Marlowe was probably

a secret double agent,

knifed through the eye, at twenty-nine


& Basho did say that writing haiku

should be like cutting a ripe melon

with a sharp sword.


Rimbaud became a ninja, & dropped

symbolism to run guns in Ethiopia.

Dickinson, the kunoichi (or female


ninja) of Amherst, snuck behind lines

in her father’s house at night,

disguised as an old maid—


She dealt her pretty words like blades.

Moving by stealth, an arcane

agency slips through this world,


observing hidden things, belonging

nowhere, obsessively perfecting

cryptic messages for—we know not whom.


Their opponent never knows

of their existence. Their legendary powers

are charms & incantations,


magic spells & flight.

They can walk on water

in their mizugumo, or water-spider shoes.






Art Source: <a href="Ray’s Web

About The Author


Barbara Ungar’s sixth book, After Naming the Animals, is forthcoming in June 2023 from The Word Works. Her prior book, Save Our Ship, won the Snyder Publication Prize from Ashland Poetry Press and a Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association, and was a Distinguished Favorite at the Independent Press Awards. She has work forthcoming or recently published in Scientific American, Crazyhorse, and Small Orange. Her work has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Bulgarian. A professor of English at The College of Saint Rose, she lives in Saratoga Springs, New York. For more details, see .