Culture of One is a book I found at a store called Book Culture. Alice Notley had been recommended to me several times and I wanted to go to the desert as my mother said it is a place she feels at home in, and I have never been there. Allow me to take some time settling in. There is a river, there is a moon pulling me. Soon we’ll take a trip to the Alice Notely symposium. I am asking Notley’s invented goddess mercy to descend. I am asking other household goddesses to help me find some sand.
Notley’s character, Marie, built her house out of the things that were in the dump. She made art out of them. But mercy can feel. And surround I—a woman watching in the dark. It is possible that we create culture with our spark?
Write me back. Tell me, how is mercy’s spark in the dark park? Then each one of us may land or may be lost in the culture.
Good night. Will you write to me about the Descent of Alette?
I have to go back to Alette, and I fear that because I fear how much I love it. I never want to read it, because I love it. I can’t make eye contact with the person I fear I love because if our eyes look directly at one another he will know everything that I am not saying.
I am afraid of
fear of fear of memory, exposure
What I perceive in myself as weakness.
All of this seems ironic. Do you know that Alette, to me, is ALL ABOUT breathing weakness? Defeating. Breaking the beating machine in the middle of yourself that tells you you don’t deserve that, you are not doing enough. Or that you should remain under.
Notley calls it The Tyrant, and she writes using quotes, breathlessly. I say breathlessly, but what’s so striking is actually the measurement of breath, how she does that–so to imagine the most intimate moment of someone rushing to sit beside you and tell you something–gasping, but measured. A metronome in place of that machine, one that you have designed. One that can change. It is this way that we might become the heroine, too. We read her breathing.
I should be more clear. The way the book is written, it is broken, it is narrative speech broken into phrases separated by quotation marks. Notley talks about the marks in a note in the beginning–she wants to guide the pacing, she wants to remind you that this is Alette’s voice. An account. The marked way of this poem is BIG. A dark and enveloping cloak. I think I will have more to say about that, but right now only its invitation.
This is a book I associate with a hard time in my life. Surely not as hard a time as Alette defeating an, her, THE oppressor? I wondered. But I should dilute my literality. It is maybe not unwise to relive battles.
Today the sky has been fighting itself, and the sun has taken over.
It is the beginning of October. A grey cloud comes to Portland… I think of the voice of Trish Keenan of Broadcast singing ‘Ominous Cloud’ on Haha Sound.
Once when I was travelling in Germany I listened to that album and I remember crying because I thought how she had died and how she was singing about an omen like cloud. At the beginning of the Notley fantasy of Marie, the goddess mercy is described as a cloud. mercy arrives, she says:
“I am mercy; I have no understanding of who I am; though, with my thousand arms, I have written of my own nature since writing began. I inhabit you and you write about me again. There is always the sound or color or feeling in which I can arrive. Lying in bed suffering from loneliness or anger the woman with eyes closed sees me bending over her, a many armed figure wearing a rayed disk hat.”
I reached out for my love with my arms but there was nowhere to reach. I went against my nature.
I try to speak but fail as if I was without culture. Then that is like the teenage girls who burn down Marie’s shack.
Then suddenly the suffering stops. (Notley’s poem title: “At the beginning Stop Suffering”).
“You have to stop thinking. You don’t have time for guilt, or you will neither sleep nor begin again. This was how I started this time; then I asked myself what I would like to read, or rather what items I wanted in my culture, to contain created, newly and justly, my needs. The world isn’t a text to be deciphered, it is a new creation, though ancient–but what is antiquity to me? Every moment must destroy suffering anew; a cloud enters you, to begin in.”
I used to sit in an office in an old brownstone on the upper west side dreaming about travelling west. (tho I was very content working for a great and lovely storyteller). Just before I left he (the novelist) and I were getting interested in the Beats. Someone I’ve overlooked since high school is Kerouac. Now I’m interested in him talking with mercy.
I decided to come to Portland because of Kerouac, and because of the poem ‘The Future of T’ and also because of the idea of travelling to go to the Notley symposium. …Also, Molly, because of this love.
Where have you run off to? She says.
I typed out the entire poem: ‘The Future of T’ and emailed it to them as a way of announcing my arrival to them.
In a moment of forgetfulness I thought I was without mercy, that I couldn’t sleep or rest properly.
“Do I dream of what I can’t remember or of the future?”
She writes: “I asked the kids to pack and run away with me. Sort and pack their jeans of corduroy so we could escape. Always to run over ridges, or a long cliffs towards the sacred bunk beds. Get out of these American conditions, leave this house; but it’s not mine…Where will I run to? No one goes with me—I’m going to be captured, am I?”
I remember running away from my hometown with my mom as a little girl. We only went from Easton to Princeton but it catapulted us into a new life. I felt the adrenaline of that I remember. I felt a regenerative energy in my imagination and yet my body was pretty sick . Not only did we leave the house that we had been miserable in, the hours of sobbing and napping on the bed, but we also left our financial woes as my mom’s new husband was wealthy and generous. But what I really wondered about back then was becoming a famous actress.
I think there is a selfishness—a living in the television-ness. Not the kind of thing one can change manually, that culture.
“All along the grey moment and not night or day. We could have been free, I always say, do I? Each hand writes a poem to your weakness.”
I wanted the ominous cloud to go away. I was so afraid of him. I didn’t want T’s future.
Poetry is a job I think. It’s like making doctor’s appointments. It’s not like running away. It’s not like telling someone you love them. It’s not even like that.
You want to excuse me but you’re wrong, you’re not mercy.
“Sing the egg back into the shell. It can be a different kind of egg. A scrambled chicken, or a film of its burning punishment for trying to live. And when you arrived, I could live? But I was the first one living! Before the epidemic made me merciful. Before they said stay and starve–Tara always skinny. Doing what you ask. Paved roadbed of your needs, as they become the flat entity of the experience of me. How simple! Your hummingbird urges lie dead on the slovenly gravel. Of my admission of your case, stuck with feathers to my palm. It’s just osmosis. We’re all still alive–and you will never be happy. And I will always have this stupid job.”
p.s. did i even respond to your letter? I am trying to carve a subterranean tunnel to get to alette
The song I’ve had in my head–I’ll begin with a song, because you began, in a way, with a song or a song story–it has this line. “When I am bored/I crash up on the shore.” Being bored is soft in my mind. We’ve been talking about how it might be healthy to be bored, sometimes–or, to let that softness in, maybe. The space that boredom creates is a soft vagueness. You’re really just carving out space, which allows everything to breathe. Then the violence of the crash up on the shore. Violence, or is it RELIEF. I mean this thought to relate to your letter but I might need to keep circling in order to get there.
When I was younger and also not much younger–I’ve always been confused and interested by the words “immigrant” and “emigrant.” One action–a movement across borders–goes by two names, depending on which side you’re looking in on. Who is to say? Am I running from, or to? It inevitably is both at all times. But the flag on one side sees you coming, the other sees you going. You came to Portland, to me. You went away from our friends in New York, from your job, from one thing, to another. Is the fact of having the choice what gives you these terms in the first place?
We are writing to each other from our own banks of land, or hills, each hill the book of Alice Notley’s we’ve read. It’s funny that this correspondence has landed now that we are, literally, so much more proximal to one another than we have been in years. But. We are standing on our books, forging or knotting this rope between us–my knots about “my book,” your knots about yours. Learning about something without yet having ever seen it–the selective pieces. The goddess mercy as a cloud hanging, weaving.
You say, “I feel I am carving a subterranean tunnel from this desert to get to Alette.” Alette begins with her awakening to find herself underground. We are blindly trying to find a center, “something roughly in the middle” (says A Pattern Language)–but I think we are less blind than September made us feel. What we are doing is clawing at an unknown. I think that’s also what writing is, for me, anyway. To do that with another person gives me a toward. What is relieving too is that toward is not an end. In my mind it is a middle. We both roughly claw in the direction of it. My guess is, we might not even know when we reach it. Maybe it’s the train. Maybe, and in fact, I think I believe the trying is all of it.
I think about the email of T you sent. A way of flinging out your arms. Sometimes I worry my whole life these days is comprised of flinging out my arms recklessly in the hopes of making connection. Frequently I am unwise in the impulsive way I cast about my limbs. I talk about it to you. I go home and consider writing emails. I try to think what I want without driving myself crazy over why I want it. This, too, is from fear of being a woman. I am afraid of being rashly emotional, over-emotional–this is, a stereotypically feminine being–a hysterically feminine being–I want psychoanalyzing to save me from my womanhood, but of course I don’t really want that. It is what I have come to believe I want. My posture is atrocious and I worry I will never be clean enough to be a real woman. It’s scary and strange to write because I can look again at the words on the paper and not have the ability to instantly draw branches down and through a phrase, editing it, immediately challenging and reducing and editing myself. Of course I don’t want to have to clean my nails to identify as a woman. I hate my flash instincts, which are always to cut myself down. I have the same gross upholdings and expectations as the patriarchy I wish to detangle from–the difference only being that I catch myself in these wicked thoughts, and I question them, and I hate them. I do not believe them upon circling back to them. But I berate myself in my questioning…and so no matter what, I fail. I fail myself and I fail feminism. The faceless enemy wins. The tyrant triumphs. In Alette, the tyrant has this way. He speaks of his sacrifice and how we ought to want to thank him.
“He said he’s shed” “his blood for us” “But it was worth it” “worth it” (p. 22)
We don’t think we believe him, you and I, we, but something in his speech seeps into us. I am not without this.
The tyrant is bigger than a man. He was created by men, but now he is inside of us, quite unwillingly, to who we are. But I do think he’s made me self-conscious of taking up space. I’m thinking about this as I revisit Alette. As I go to a coffee shop and become instantly conscious of how much I spread out–and at the same time, guilty for it. We don’t believe we should take up space. We should all be subterranean. Virginia Woolf talks about Opportunities for Smallness, but I think the smallness is a prize when it is an option. When we know we can take up whatever amount of space. I so often do wish to compress myself. Too often, though, I wonder if that wish comes from a place of not wanting to bother anyone, to keep the water still, the surface placid. I do not think I want to want that.
So many choices we think we make, but are made for us. I want to feel I am making my choices for myself. I am not yet sure, though I think I’ve gotten into too many branching arrowing directions for one letter to continue much further.
Did I even respond to your letter? This whole thing is one slow, giant, increasingly graceful circling, I think.
And also, love
You know that I think a desert is a man. He is small in my hand. He was disappointed. I could not find the pulse. And not finding it, coming here…. Coming to you… You are eccentric.
How bored I am in Portland!
Or maybe I float as a ghost and smile at what I do not yet understand, or desire what I do desire as the materials but above all I desire culture for help. I was alone in New York. I looked down on the street. There was a story about Marie, I heard it on the subway.
And I read:
“Psychological reorientation is the basic aim of all true culture”
“Without preparatory development of a sound and sane basic attitude toward the goals of living, the whole endeavor is susceptible to egoisitic self love.”
I’m so confused by “ego.”
I’m still awake. Molly, I think I’ve gone to “Los Angeles.”
Might I take this opportunity to use this quote by Bertolt Brecht:
“On thinking about Hell, I gather my brother Shelley found it was a place much like the city of London. I who live in Los Angeles and not London find, on thinking about hell, that it must be still more like Los Angeles.”
erasure from the letter you wrote on October 2nd:
Because you began
we’ve been talking
…I’ve always been confused.
The tyrant is my desert. In my dream I was asking a question on the telephone, and this person meant as deeply to me as the Haitian deity Legba at the crossroads. He was an older, humble sort of stooped thick brown haired man with a goatee. He told me not to forget to study math. Interesting for I think I think I can’t do math—somebody tricked me into ignoring it. (as a ‘girl’ ‘spacey’ one so felt a little stupid) Now he is tricking me to balance.
letters to the Tyrant:
As though you could put your finger on what real is!
Why do you worry you’re a criminal when you’re the murderer of my own thought?
What am I that you are hidden.
Hiding from the world, I appreciate your communication.
My approach is like a long german lied.
So heavy and rich.
Not good for your digestion.
I never really cared for salad.
The world is ringing.
tie tie tyrant
You think I suppress psyche with the still immaterial word as messy as your hippies are because you love the earth you can’t handle these contradictions and I can’t look at you.
There is a gentle fall in Portland. I keep reading Notley to watch how Marie creates. I have such a simple problem. It’s the feeling of being split (I know too simply) between a deep self and a self that plays on surfaces. There’s a man in the coffee shop making flowers out of white cloth. It occurs to me I can’t reach out like this.
I keep thinking about the German movie we saw, with the sick woman who kept admitting to how UNREASONABLE she was.
I am so tired but I want the light to punish my eyes. What is Unreasonable. Why am I always feeling should–I have created someone, the tyrant I have made for myself, who tells me I’m feeling things wrong. Who threatens me with a desert. My unreasonability. My guilt. If we’re plagued with self-loathing, we can be held down most easily.
Those two selves. Yesterday I read a part of Alette and nodded.
I am tempted to type out the whole page, but I think I’d better not. The tyrant is inside Alette’s head. She feels him trying to get out. He bursts forth. He stabs himself with a knife. The blood falls onto Alette, onto only Alette, no one else in the subway car, and she feels pain, guilt, she wonders:
“‘It’s as if I killed him,'” “I said” “Will I always” “feel guilty?” “‘It’s not your fault,’ someone said” “Then voices” “surrounded me” “with comfort” “caressing shadows:” “‘You didn’t do it'” “‘As if,” “I said,” “I didn’t love him enough'”
Now I don’t feel comfortable saying my guilt is undue. I don’t know how to reconcile any of it. The tyrant jumps out of Alette’s head and stabs himself. She feels guilty. I wish to hold myself accountable for myself and for the pain I have caused others, but I’m not sure how to separate–there it is. I am not sure how to separate myself from the tyrant. Myself from my self. Is this a different way of speaking of the two selves you write of? Maybe in my dark moments I believe I am the tyrant. Maybe that’s his plan. But I don’t know how I can blame him for too much, all the same. Maybe I am looking for an infestation. Maybe I believe I deserve the desert. I fear Oakland because I’m so looking forward to it. I see it as this big leaf of an answer. I think that’s slightly dangerous. I don’t think I believe any one thing is an answer to any other thing, so when I begin to envision things that way, I startle. Have we spoken about this? Does Alette speak to this? Does running do anything? Unless we believe it to.
Today words are cotton in my mouth. Or something stubborn, sticky. Something I’ve found lately is that I need to clear my throat many times a day. I never needed to do this before. I wonder who is stuck in there. If I am afraid to speak…I’m tired of fear. I thought Alette would assist me in vanquishing fear but I’m not sure she is. And there’s the answer problem. I’m not sure she is supposed to, “should,” that dread word of womanly self-punishment. I’m not sure she is supposed to do anything for me. Just be. I find myself a pile of blocks, stacked, that are hollow on the inside. I don’t feel I am hollow. But I know there are openings in my structure. This is good and bad. Reading Alette, these are all the phrasings separated by quotation marks. Breaths. Perforations.
Lizzy, I just reread the quote I typed out for you, above there, and feel foolishly elated in a strange way–how relevant it is to how I am feeling right now. This is maybe personal. Who knows what will stay. But since 2010 I have believed, in a small part of me, that I am a toxic person. I’m a nice person and a well-meaning one, but I also wonder if there’s poison in me.
Maybe I should type out the rest of this page. Maybe I should tattoo it on my muscles. It gets better, more hopeful, the passage does. But I feel like I have this Lady Macbeth within me. This accomplice to tragedy.
I will write more in response to YOUR letter, now. I love you.
I’d like to come back with you. let me know what ticket you’re going to get. taos is too far! mills is too much a school.
Some thoughts after reading your last letter.
How do we reconcile ourselves without destroying other people?
How do we have some idea about what other people are going through?
Perhaps your letter has touched me at a very tender spot.
I’d like to go to the desert after the Alice Notley symposium but I think I won’t find it yet.
Maybe there are three selves and the third is the cotton in the mouth, his smaller portion.
I have another letter will type it up
Yesterday I finally read that article on Marilynne Robinson. Where she talks about building your own mind to be a place you don’t mind spending time. Where you might even like to. In Part II of Alette she travels through an endless system of unfolding caves. At one point, she finds herself in multiples. A Past, Present, and Future her, a palimpsest. A drawing erased and re-drawn, the initial marks never really gone.
I wonder about the ways we’re all palimpsests, increasingly so. Doesn’t it sounds like a disease? It’s not. It’s beauty. It’s scarring, it’s tracing paper. Once I became sad about my scars. I thought of babies as pristine canvases. Scars, though. I come to realize, I am coming to value messy experience. The residues and shadows, the marks left by the world, on us. That’s not a bad thing. “Purity” is a myth. “Purity” is for water. Might we bathe without the hope of shedding all of ourselves, but instead taking in what makes us stronger.
Hello Multiple Souled Individual in the Sand.
Last night when I went to bed I felt so awful. It was a combination of wine, pork chops, and split pea soup but also I was staying up really late trying to work on this manuscript I started right after I left Bard College—a version of the The Secret Garden with the modernist experimental prose writer Mary Butts as the protagonist. But when I went to bed I started identifying with all the most anxiety provoking situations and their poison, and then I had all these dreams of feeding myself cake and eating it in front of hungry people. In my head the most enormous problem is that I am alone too much and it must mean something about my unskillful relationship to the world. Tasting failure, I feel it as a kind of chocolate I want and continue to want but every word accounting of it feels inauthentic.
I woke up just now… it is about 4:19 AM from a wave of mercy. It can be none other than a change in my processing–I didn’t do it myself–a feeling of relief running over my whole body and assurance I feel, which only enlarges this disquietude and unrest, which turns to joy and is much how I felt when I read the article on Mariynne Robinson the moment she said: ‘Loneliness is not a problem.’
How does Notley capture this culture of loneliness in the same language that was given to me when I was a kid in the 90s by the Tyrant zapping me of my loneliness, and rushing me out of my sorrow?
It is early as I mentioned and raining. It is the beginning of rainy season. This Secret Garden I was trying to write was a kind of processing of all that was happening (a kind of mercy discovering), which at the time was very similar to what’s happening now, moving across the country, moving back again, thinking I’m in love, and mostly worrying over ‘the absence of myth.’ (a phrase I really like from George Bataille’s essay “The Absence of Myth” from his Writings on Surrealism).
mercy woke me up and said: I see your struggle with pretty language. I felt her collage-a bizarro text like a virtual relief system called mercy, which is Marie’s work when she uses what she can find in the trash. And last night I was going through the trash and in my secret garden I employed the Goddess as a way to understand teenagers and similarly, there is in Culture of One some devil. And the teenagers are filled with sub-human aggressiveness. What is this aggressiveness but a kind of language made alone in the dark.
Marie says in the poem “Embracing the Shark”:
I don’t know if you can filet a shark or not…
You’d shrink it first. I’m shrinking the shark but not filleting it….
Marie discusses the subject with the letter as she paints it:
You’re shaped like a fish, you stand for embracing the shark.
I am probably a glyph, the letter says to her,
You are a damned shrunk shark. The woman
who is also shrunk
is riding in your mouth, legs inside, torso out, and she looks ahead
at the water. You don’t eat her legs. Why not? Because
you’re embracing back, and that’s how you do it.
There’s a funny-
looking bird standing on your head. I want to eat your legs, the letter says. You’re a letter not a shark, and it isn’t me. Why do I want
to hug you? The act of hug is within you, as the concept depicted.
You don’t talk like that, says the letter. I know i don’t:
that’s why i paint letters, glyphs, things no one’s ever read before…
You can’t make words with us, us letters, the letter says.
You aren’t systematic, Marie says carefully. I don’t
want to close this world in. This codex. A fortune-
teller told me I’d never be satisfied by any country,
any program in this world. On this planet. I’m not;
and don’t intend to be. She says. Applying more red ochre.
Honestly, I think I came all the way here and am going all the way to California with you to see a woman that says loneliness is not a problem.
There’s another great character in Culture of One named Leroy who is Marie’s friend that lies a lot. But he changes. Someone dies. He gets bit by a rattlesnake. And he stops lying. But it sounds more like lying:
I talk to her, he says, I see her in heaven.
He hasn’t had this experience, has he? What do you
think? The brain
exists to soothe you, it tells you how to see the right
The brain is the big trick: you tell it what
your codex is. So you can see that.
I talk to her, he says, I see her in the afterlife.
Sure you do.
And if you can describe a vision, maybe that’s having it too.
I talk to her, I see her in the afterlife, Fuck it, I do.
I talk to her that’s why I’m talking to you.
me and the codex
Yesterday, the day before yesterday, we took at train to Jack London square and went to Katie Bondi’s house in Oakland. We went to San francisco. We wanted to look at books and pretty clothes. On the way to the Alice Notley symposium we got lost and walked in circles in the two directions we thought there was to go. When we arrived I was so thirsty I thought I was going to die.
Notley said: “You think I’m your leader? I’m a nervous wreck.”
I’ve been trying to write a certain way because I thought I was trying to write something relevant to our topic: Alice Notley’s writing, and the Alice Notley symposium, but that’s not really what I’ve been thinking about. I’ve been procrastinating against what I’ve really been thinking about. The material is our friendship. It can’t be exploited to some end.
When we got to the symposium Notley was talking about the outside of time…
I miss Portland, I thought. But what I mean to record, what feels so important to me, like the first snow is that ‘Notley’ wasn’t there. She wanted to show what healing is but she was the beginning of what the sun is, we were there and it reminded me of my spirit when I was watching, scouting (Ann Lauterbach’s word) when I was watching Lonnie Holley and he said (he was performing at the Whitney Museum) he said: this is YOUR Whitney museum and I thought no, it’s not mine but it was it’s just that I was a ghost and it was so much like seeing the teacher at this meditation retreat where my eagerness and actual enthusiasm fell apart–fell apart to the beating thing and ignorance of ashe itself, what the Yoruba call the power to make things happen. Is it possible even a little bit that our moral structure right now is x rayed through by letters…
Through looking for him I see what I’m ignorant of myself. You don’t see your materials, he could have said, outside of time.
Our tunnel is our materials, our friendship (like marie and alice and leroy and mercy…)
You do not inhabit me, Notley said, reading from Manhattan Luck.
Sometimes we live in a world of mirroring images and cities and desires and foods and stores and images and images of images. And when I’m a tourist I know that all that grabbing for that which solves you, which you write a proof of to prove yourself and behold inside what you cannot inhabit is not the material I talk around. But I go around all that negative space really tightly…
Dreams are so brief and the books are really good, but the physical exhaustion, the depleted immune system, and ill-health. …
After the symposium, I read this really beautiful note from Alana Siegel on Facebook:
I didn’t know where to go to lunch today so decided to drift and wandered into a restaurant, at the front of which, through the long nave of it, could see the back patio and asked if I could sit there.
The waitress said “Sure” in a tone making clear that her permission was an exception. In the center of the patio overgrown with ivy and purple flowers was a statue of Poseidon, flanked by two fish. I thought to myself that the only real thing in Anne’s White Glove was a fish.
Reflecting upon this in the domain of Poseidon, the realm of Pisces, symbolized by fish, meant that dreams are the only real things.
Earlier in the day I took a wrong turn on my bike, and ended up passing by PG & E, where AC Transit refuels, and other companies, names I didn’t recognize, but as I moved through I had the recognition that I was cycling through the area where elements of my day to day are manufactured, maintained without my knowing, at least some of them, whether in transit, or sitting in the lamplight of my room.
As I sat in the courtyard of Poseidon and lingered there, I thought, felt, that it was Alice Notley, and the wind she rode away on, fanned from its tail, that compassed this newness to the city I live in, to know where things are made, or are peaceful and are dreamt, and thank her, and everyone a part of it.
And I go on with this wanting to ditch something or be a part of something and the thing is a fish or a piece i mean–
So we are back from the Alice Notley symposium. Did we find our loves? You my loves, like gloves. There were so many gloves. (Like in the Mary Butts horror story called With and Without Buttons). Half a pair … I needed my hand to find its foot. And Alana asked us to hand out programs and I think we were like the two faces on the doorknobs.
My grandmother has written me an email today:
“Just read your two poems. I confess I don’t understand them but the language sounds beautiful. Maybe ill clue in later when it’s not new to me. There are several things here that you wrote. I’ll send you a list. Love, grandma”
I keep saying so much and forgetting that you’re there. Maybe I am really shy. Maybe I’m also really shy that I’m a woman. (A woman in public…) I was worried about the way it might sound. I was really aware. I live in so much dreaming—disconnection, irreality. I wake up in alarm. I fear how much I love the trance. I fear you. I fear my relation to you. I fear myself as a tyrant and what I might build, what I might tear in you. I’ve been talking as though I’ve made choices and as though I was bold and spiritual but of course I am not. I am completely contaminated by all that I’ve touched. I’ve been rushing to sit beside you and tell you that I love you and tell you something else in the restaurant. These letters are proof that I don’t know where this train is going, or whose in charge that I try to emulate…the one who I think is in charge…you see, because I don’t trust my own –as if it were mine– intelligence. What is this machine we’ve designed? What is this breathing? Who put the metronome there to remind me to listen to you? I know you are my culture. Sing me back into me. I feel such aggression towards my mind, and my experience. Sing me back into me, perhaps of your living heart.
I just read this “The light on two sides allows people to understand each other” and I am thinking about embroidering that. Today I found a long piece of white fabric, about as narrow as a table runner. I want to embroider something on it, but I’m afraid that what I choose won’t be the right thing. It’s such a good piece of fabric. I read that line from A Pattern Language and I felt excited by it so I thought, ah, maybe it will be this. But then I saw my Emily Dickinson book and I thought, ah, maybe it will be that. Maybe that poem I wrote to you once.
Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn
Indicative that suns go down
The notice to the startled grass
That darkness is about to pass
Or maybe I want to do this line from The Member of the Wedding that I put in a poem once:
“The evening sky was pale and empty and the light from the kitchen window made a yellow square reflection in the darkening yard.”
All three of these quotes are about light moving. I’m interested in my own interest in that. Lately I’ve just had the hardest time leaving the cocoon of my bed. If it’s not raining I watch the prisms that hang in my window–well, I don’t actually watch the prisms. I watch their light. Their flickering movements on two sides of my room. I think I’m envious of them. Why do I often feel so dark. When I’m lying in my bed I wish the lights could whisk me up out of my white safety. Isn’t it funny that an all-white bed could bring me feelings of safety? Shouldn’t I worry about the stains? But I think I’ve accepted so many stains or at least that the accumulation of them will happen. Some of them I even like. But I hate how I feel separate from the lightness. I don’t just want to watch the quick flickers. I want to move lightly. Where did that go from inside me?
I think I think that maybe if I illustrate light, if I write out all these words I will learn to move like that. I will move in a day like the way the sun does, naturally, not pushed but in rather in dialogue with the world. I don’t just want to feel like I’m pushing furniture around, but that I am using the furniture. Actually, it’s kind of funny–in the book Georgia lent me, the boy decides he wants to be like a forest-whisperer, but for houses. He says “I want to be able to listen to the house.”
I like that and I want to try that even more. I want to be able to listen from inside the house and that everything is the house. Where am I going with this? Endlessly circular. Maybe I should embroider all of these things just over one another like a woven mantra of secret power.
I wish a golden light would just filter into my room and lift me up but I think I need to be both the light and myself.
Molly and Elizabeth began these letters while planning a trip to the Alice Notley Symposium in September of 2014. The symposium was held at The Bay Area Public School, October 24th through the 26th in Oakland, California. Alice Notley is the author of over 25 books of poetry including Culture of One and The Descent of Alette.