NAME, M/DD NAME, M/DD NAME, M/DD NAME, M/DD Express %26 Inspire Development %26 Publication

Judy Halebsky

The Sky of Wu

It's 4 a.m. the bar is closed and Starbucks isn't open yet so they keep

talking, Li Bai at least. Du Fu is shuffling a deck of cards that is missing

the ace of spades.

Play anyway, Li Bai says

Du Fu hesitates

Li Bai wants to meet Robert Hass, but I don't know his room number.

And he's got a poem due tomorrow. How about hot chocolate? No dice.

Li Bai wants the party to start

(I have not been displaced by the war, discomforted maybe)

Du Fu keeps shuffling

Let's write on a joker and make that an ace, I say

They scowl (novice)

(I write letters to Joshua in Kandahar, he sends pictures back

in uniform in a helicopter, tan with sunglasses, smiling)

Du Fu is smoking an e-cigarette. Li Bai is laughing at him. They want to

meet Charles Wright but I don't have his number.

The night is already over. There's nothing that's going to start except

the nature walk and then workshop.

We don't write the poems together, I explain, we just talk about them

Li Bai rolls his eyes

America, he says, it's worse than I thought

Ikebana Instructions

—don't confuse self-satisfaction with freedom

—arrange the flowers to reflect an inner world

—we become what we cultivate

a pressed yellow leaf falls out of my journal

I lie on the floor near the heater

where is the rain that is not falling here?

where is Jacob, who can trace the water lines

of the Bay in thousand-year increments?

my mother wants me to call her with the results

what shall I say?

the work of my life has been to arrange flowers

cut at the stem

Field Exam

State Board of Poets

Section A: Self-Identification

Hoarder, known in the field as a nester (check all that apply)

____ collections of index cards, beach glass, astrological charts

____ guides to wildflowers, native plants, old-growth trees, all volumes of Clear Your Clutter with Feng-Shui

____ three or more boxes of debris marked: notes for poems


____ sleeping in a car, tent, or beneath a freeway underpass (required)*

*exception if poet lives in the garage or summer cabin of wealthy

friends (if these are family members or in-law connections, fill out

Privilege of Birth paperwork)

(note: drifters living out of car but with a storage unit can write

the nesters section of exam as applicable)


____ things are worse now / were better then (applicants who have sought treatment for nostalgia either through Zen training or moving apartments are considered to be in recovery)

____ disdain for all kinds of feedback (makeovers, renovations, critiques, the process of discarding)

____ clairvoyant

____ party to infidelity (for open relationships, see Deal Maker or Drifter)

Deal Maker

____ trained in law school to memorize and carry (not just to repeat back, but to carry) (trained into the body to carry) (this will be hard to undo)


____ (all kinds eligible)

Section B: The Elevated Heart*

Li Bai is furious that this is even on the exam. He says, Impossible.

He says even the most profit-seeking, competitive, snide, selfish

heart can crack, can soften.

Du Fu suggests that applicants write an ode to loneliness every day

and then we average the results. (This proposal is on the agenda for

the next meeting.)

To elevate the heart means to cultivate attention. In a flash of lightning,

as Bashō explained, be ready.

[I would go on but I kind of hate poems about poems] [since this isn't

a poem, it's an exam, and I hope you pass, I hope I pass, I hope we can

all be healed, and my father, for a moment, from the haze, would nod,

would glow, because we are trying to write a poem which will mend

the wreckage he lived through]

Grace Paley wants us to give a license to anyone who applies.

So do I, and so does my father. It's not a quorum, but we are not counting.

Donald Hall says, As long as they come to class and try.

Du Fu says, Put grade inflation on the next agenda.

Donald Hall says, Put no assigned grades on the next agenda.

Grace Paley waves. She keeps waving.

*Optional Secondary Certification in Confessional Poetry.

(Applicants identifying as male may choose to write the universal

themes exam instead.)

Section C: Craft

Check all that apply:

____ vanity

____ debauchery

____ frivolity

____ optimism

____ wildness

(Always and never are worth two points each.)

No sonnets, no trochees, no counting meter or foot. This is a living

craft, which requires passage along a cliff edge, the threat of falling

into blue screens and housing tracts, sitcom amphetamines, the risk

of burying oneself alive.

This aligns with state standards.

Applicants who score 80 or above receive certification. Remember, we are writing with the living and the dead (see rubric). With my father and Grace Paley and all the workers who believed things would get better but didn't see it in their lifetimes. What is hidden floats, what is buried rises.

Judy Halebsky's third book of poems, Spring and a Thousand Years (Unabridged), from The University of Arkansas Press, will be published in March 2020. These poems are from that collection. Her first book, Sky = Empty, won the New Issues Poetry Prize. Her second book is Tree Line. Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, she moved to the Bay Area to study poetry at Mills College. On a fellowship from the Japanese Ministry of Culture, she studied Japanese literature at Hosei University in Tokyo. She directs the low-residency MFA at Dominican University of California. She lives in Oakland.

— posted March 2020

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