has published over thirty books of poetry, including (most recently) Culture of One and Songs and Stories of the Ghouls. With her sons Anselm and Edmund Berrigan, she edited both The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan and The Selected Poems of Ted Berrigan. Notley has received many prizes and awards including the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Prize, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Award, the Griffin Prize, two NEA Grants, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry. She lives and writes in Paris, France.
The rains of chance or the rains of payback?
She was taller than I but wearing platforms . . .
afraid to cross the street to the shabbier mailbox
I’d pointed it out still emerging as a form; I’ll post
mine there for I remember that very corner.
Not by chance am I your leader, it was foretold
when the first messages were sent . . .
I was being held in reserve, by the mind in common
awaiting my agendaless birth. I will be born soon,
walking up and down the shapely hill of dramatic
climax. Often without narrative details.
Turn left and proceed of a sudden towards Lily Hill
a hill on a mesa. Standing there
I anticipate your assent to sitting down and listening.
We have never had to do anything
whatever you do remember it is nothing to die
it is more of life; no one can hold fear of death
over you. You are free to move about with-
out anyone’s consent; I don’t have a plan,
I have a voice. You are vocal, your mind
is transparent, speaking. We’ve come together
to be the universe. As it ceases to rain
and the gracious desert reappears
erasing chronology. You will remember
what you wish, while events roam between tongues . . .
The language here is thinking itself and is seen.
We are trying to let it explain itself: You
came to me when I was young it says and I’ve
remained youthful. Who stands by me now?
It is the lilies; I am talking to the lilies.
The Rules of Improvisation vs the Creation
I said some lines and there were objects, too
not quite ahead of me—us—
small on the green air ground the same as
the green sky or backdrop; I said anything
the objects aren’t familiar. Maybe I’m not
familiar—I changed, into what I am.
There’s always a chance you’re not writing poetry
If someone else owns the definition—
at this moment I own it.
We. I can be us as much as anyone else can.
Take these clusters of colored forms in your hands
Everything else is a sealike desert a void stage
Please don’t act on it. Not yet—we can’t stay still
I am holding a molecule, irregular—they can’t be—
with some jaggedness so it’s hard to describe
Once, in public, I tried to do just anything
Improvise, the music teacher said; but I didn’t know
the rules—of which there were many—of improv
and I hit any goddamned note I felt like;
sounded terrible and felt . . . interesting.
Qualification, the aqua-green color of nothing.
Anyway, you wouldn’t know how; I would.
Like wadded up paper with different colored wrinkled facets
what was first there, doesn’t resemble the thought you’d had of it—
that we got from someone else later. Okay, it’s me
Am I performing? I just wish you didn’t understand this.
Anywhere you go, you might not be able to get back
and you have to accept all their stories
and their languages.
I’m trying to find the story I was given
First as ever the station. I need a train that doesn’t go south—
north’s cold but I live there
I end up south. And the people are nice to me
Men are even attracted— an old friend shows up
I never make it home. I never will.
Please talk to me: each one’s microdot testament
enters me at a touch. It’s not the same as talking
The reason I have to lead you home. Even if
the house that represents my entity
isn’t there I have to lead you home because it’s
predestined that I do, in the sense that you knew it
you knew it too. The language, might one say
is pain, but sometimes it’s chitchat
interestingly inflected anguish has a clarity
like a color combination, maroon and charcoal
I feel it most now because I’m older and people seem like
idiots. I could end there, in the accusative case
instead of asserting my nominative and
vocative leadership—not to north or south—
to here. That’s why you filled me with you
My body is taking you onto this stage
where I perform. I know everything. It hurts
I have to let out your knowledge so you can go home.