Li Bai — I should tell you that Oakland is a city on the coast of California with lots of things people want to buy with paper money or lines on a page tracked by a bank. This is called abstract wealth. It means money that exists separate from bags of rice or seashells or gold. It is collected and traded for actual things but in itself is just a concept (see Moneymaker). Localizer — a landing instrument in an airplane or a writer who translates in proximities — button-fly jeans, Stairway to Heaven, Beachcombers. Matsuo Basho — in monk’s robes in Kanto, writing to Saigyo and Li Bai, driving a four wheeler over all that precious court poetry with his bed bugs and buckwheat and working girls. Martin — purple martin, sand martin, house martin. The so-called bee martin is not a martin but a kingbird. Moneymaker — lady butt, booty, backside. Note: Different from honeymaker, which means a bee, not a bumblebee but a baker of sweets, a lover, a sharer of bubbly water and homebrew and jeans, a collector of shells, a man who sends me pictures of wisteria vines trying to get into the house. Murasaki1 — purple. The name of a character in the story of the Shining Prince. Purple for wisteria. A name attached to the author through the character (b.978—), like calling Jane Austen(b.1775—) Elizabeth Bennet. Except Elizabeth did marry, while Murasaki and Jane did not.(Leave this space blank if no dependents.) Note: Dear Encyclopedia Britannica, I was checking to see if Murasaki really didn’t marry. And you say that she did. But for starters, it’s the 21st century, why do you list her as a lady of the court first and the author of Tale of Genji second? Would you ever say that William Carlos Williams was a physician first and an author second? (I’ll check.) And why in the world would you write that Murasaki married a man and bore him a son, as though the baby were a gift she would pass on, a gift she would present to him like a new platter or an award for outstanding service? Note: William Carlos Williams (b. 1883—), American poet who succeeded in making the ordinary appear extraordinary.(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Monday, September 26, 2016,7:50 a.m., ten minutes after I got out of bed, realized I should go straight to the office, and instead walked around the house naked, saying out loud, fuck you, work.) Murasaki2 — unforgiving of those who lack elegance, who would stumble stepping up into the hallway, who would make excuses to visit her after dark, to ask to see her unshielded, to open the blinds. She was the one to have studied, to have learned to write by eavesdropping on her brother’s lessons, to not contain herself at his dim wit, to answer the questions in a whisper, to have her father lament she was not born male. Noise — radiator, electric lights, freeway, music as the sound between dial tone, trapped fly, door lock — if we can change from busy to still. Normal — a red Speedo, line dancing, eating at the sink, chocolate cake, skin that heals, monologue as conversation, snow melt (we calculate normal based on the last 30 years so we can measure slow changes in the climate). Off-grid — unaffiliated, a township, a farm, a handwritten note, a harmonica band, hip-hop in Tokyo, folk songs in Nashville, a lemonade stand Open1 — the thing about the butterflies changing colors and the leaves on the ground is that a merchant would come home in fall. Not that I need this kind of accuracy. I’m just trying to read the annotations in the text, the margins. Open2 — Midrash, notes to align the written testament with the oral transmission with how we live or how to live (still working on this while knitting pink cat ear hat). Portage — to carry a canoe over land between bodies of water. Quasi-steady state — a situation changing slowly enough that it seems constant. Marriage. The location of islands and land. A forest. Red Pine (A.K.A. Bill Porter) — Taking on a poet name might seem like trying too hard, but this is how it is in a language that wasn’t brought in from another one, so our names became sounds rather than words.
Judy Halebsky is the author of the poetry collections Tree Line and Sky = Empty. Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, she spent five years studying in Japan on fellowships from the Japanese Ministry of Culture. She lives in Oakland and teaches at Dominican University of California.