River Merchant in Blue
Of course I’m expecting you now
the butterflies are yellow with August
and you’ve sold everything you possibly could
between Gilroy and Weed
blue plum—a kind of apricot
in the damp heat of a summer night wherever you are
blue for pale
blue for livid and leaden and bruised
know that I chose you as my spouse
you were never my king or my lord
blue for loyalty
blue for distant and unknown
a river merchant’s wife—
would I rather have married a farmer?
one who would walk up behind me
put his dirt hands on my waist
one who would know
blue is for young and fresh and green
I think sometimes love is what we can’t escape
rather than what we choose
Addendum: Fifth Moon
Basho crossed the mountains of Yamagata, counting days in rain, in sake, in some slingshot between the sun and the moon (I’m not worried about when to plant or wear white pants or when the dogwood branches will cover the window). There’re rows of English majors crossing the stage. The start of spring is exactly halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox (this has something to do with the longest night and the shortest day), but I don’t want to break any spells, not this early in the poem, at least. When the lunar and solar calendars got too far apart, they would add another month, say after May but also called May with another character to note an extension or side door, like an attic or a trunk, an extra gate for when the main city gate is closed. It’s messy. A language half-based on the fields, the harvest, the seasons, and half-built for the tax system with categories and rules that we only half-fit into. The parts that don’t fit are phantom limbs that ache and call to us (remember, we can move a heart from one body to another) (we can send messages through the air, we have glasses to see in the night. fusion. radioactive isotopes. carbon dating). Even these words are thousands of years old (from the Germanic tribes, Sardis, the Lower East Side). There will be another dictionary, traced out of ash, that aligns the day with the night. The new moon with the harvest. The night sky with the eclipse. Concrete streets with tires, a hydro river dam, legions of kung fu seven-year-olds with analog synthesizers, a ukulele revival, and a phone that can name constellations of stars (this isn’t the end of the poem—even though we’ve gotten totally off track and might spend the next two years drinking vodka in the Russian space station). I’ll look for one later, which might be an end or a side gate, a way to leave the poem just after dusk when the main gate is locked and the guards are sleeping.
Days Idle, Cumulative
I am on strike today with Union Local 124. This poem will have no images, no subtle observations, no tattooed girls on bicycles. The gray in my lover’s beard is not a sign. I won’t have a poem about how my light is spent or what I might have done with that Volvo key I found on the beach or how I sent him to the store so I could have a few moments to lay out the demands of this work stoppage:
(1) I want all new language, I want the words hosed off and scrubbed clean. I want to come back tomorrow and see them gleaming and single and unattached, willing to hook up with any word that has at least two vowels.
(2) I need a raise. I’m losing lawn share to the rising line, the vocal fry, the volta, and that endless prose-style enjambment.
(3) Don’t confuse me with a haiku poet. I am firmly here in free verse. I want it big like a cherry Slurpee, a boob job in an anime film, the biceps of a trainer at God’s gym. Bursting, pushing on prose, veering toward a movie script with popcorn and hair-salon updos and all the hours until dawn.
Okay, maybe it’s possible I’m in league with haiku. A little in the pink, colluding, organizing, making pamphlets. It’s just that I have to cut so many lines. Can we compromise? You agree to take the mediocre and push them up to pretty good. I promise I’ll keep a few more words. Shine them in my rock tumbler. Put them on the clothesline so they can dry out and let go of whatever dark bar they walked in from. (This is called bargaining and there’s usually a crossroads and a devil. Usually there’s something to lose.) Basho said to live like a house on fire (that’s not an image, I’m still on strike) (it’s an idiom meaning we live close to death).
JUDY HALEBSKY's poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Antioch Review, Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, and Washington Square Review. She is the author of the poetry collections Sky=Empty and Tree Line. In addition, she has won several awards for her writing and received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony, and the Canada Council for the Arts.
She has a PhD in performance studies (Japanese theater) and an MFA in poetry. On a fellowship from the Japanese Ministry of Education (MEXT), she trained in Japanese literature at Hosei University in Tokyo for three years. Currently, she is an associate professor at Dominican University of California, where she teaches in their low residency MFA program.