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Play — for 26 voices.

(in which the author as a community of voices of the dead discusses Everything)

By ALICE NOTLEY.

B.       

Each miraculous word recalls . . . attests . . . causes coherence
But sometimes it’s not there . . . is it there?

A.       

What do you remember of your lives      anyone of you or anything
A shape of it? For I’m not at all like you . . .

B.       

That’s not what I remember      though sometimes pierced
Guilt, shock, not a shape      But
I sometimes remember what never happened in the Of-
Ficial World      almost someone’s else’s memory      It might be
Almost in another language.

C.       

I can’t find where I put it I mean
I don’t I don’t remember where
What was a gun or was it a needle
What is a needle these words are
I’m going to pieces because you
What does all that mean I don’t
Understand what’s understand?

A.       

Any word can be a miracle      It has to be to work.

C.       

I . . . what do I . . . know

B.       

I’m happy to be here      It is a place that loves us
Or are you, A, the love? Do these words mean
Anything here?

D.       

We left you      but we’re together now,      aren’t we?

B.       

You never have to know who I am!
It’s broken      and if I say a broken thing laughing
But each one      Broke piece knows      know who I am —
I don’t      I don’t want to      If there be a who I am.

A.       

Because you did something?

E.       

We all did something      and sometimes we remember it
And sometimes we remember the other thing we did that
We only remember in dreams
                                                      I never hated any-
One but I don’t want him — someone — to be here      I think
He wants to kill me . . . that’s what the language might say.

A.       

The Old Language?

D.       

It’s like splinters in my heart      it looks like splinters
I see the words as I say them and they’re splinters.

E.       

Crows came to tear at me      maybe they looked like
My black hair      I ran and opened the gate      they seemed to know they
Shouldn’t fly over it      there was a platform and I stood on it
In the middle of the empty field      I didn’t know
What to call to      I didn’t believe in the gods I
Just stood there staring at the crows now walking past
The fence      I have come to this refuge that is two-feet wide
A small platform      in the middle of emptiness . . .
All my words come from what I’m standing on      I remember a dream.

F.       

But this is home      and we talk to keep it going going on
One thing is fishhooks      that words are      but   also see
Splinters when I talk      Or I say something and see nothing
I see an empty plank that I know holds words
I don’t have to see them.

B.       

I think I may have been two or more people at once.
Or are they people      or are these words the words for it . . .
Over, they brought me over      Hover over it
I am a-      bove it      Don’t care what I do we do if I can just
Get away      Lie to you that it’s fine and escape
Remember?

A.       

You didn’t care if you did anything you were supposed to.

B.       

No      I didn’t and as I stand here (are we standing) don’t
Communal I don’t
     sometimes I was transfixed
     the boy in the wheelchair      do
     we have these words      be-
     cause I don’t remember there
     was shade and I gave him his
     sandwich that was different
     from going to a meeting a-
     bout running an organization
     Are these words here?

D.       

And when I was . . . crazy — is that a word here?
I was underneath — a word?      the bed — a word
I thought I was under it      when I was on it
what is under      Here there’s no . . . relation
I thought so because it was darker      I always
thought I was under      the bed.

A.       

Do you remember being in the coffin?

D.       

Then you are above it

A.       

Do people bring you ever?      Now?

B. & D.

 
No one      no one brings us      don’t have to be
Have to be brought      like a child      Don’t have to contribute
Don’t have to      Doing what you say and nobody says
What to do. That’s how it’s good.

E.  

This word that I won’t — I’m holding it — won’t remember
Because it isn’t in the orchestra      word might be
“Guilt”      or it might be “Tribute”      I have to stand where the
Words come from      Others say they come from above.

A.  

Or inside?

E.  

We’re empty      aren’t we      They’re what we have
On the other “hand” (put hand in quotes) we have kept
Talking but      what are they      now where do they
Come from?      How did they . . . did we . . . bring them?

C.  

I’m always trying to be clear      because
I still don’t understand what happened
They taught me      how to kill      and I did
Is “kill” a word here?

A.  

Everyone’s already dead.

F.  

It was always important for her — a friend
To stay in one room drinking but
You don’t drink here.

G.  

I feel so free      I don’t remember or do I know that
What I did might have done      I remember suddenly it
Was over      and I was afraid for an instant then I didn’t know
Of what      But each word I say implies that
I remember it      And really we are in each other’s minds.

B.  

I’m not sure who I am      which of several
I don’t have to be someone but should I remember
Who I was      I seem to remember I think dreams
Who I might have been      in dreams so I wasn’t always
One or married to one or      lived in one place or was of one class
One social class.

C.  

I don’t get it      I dreamed about what I’d done awake
The same awful thing.

B.  

I know where the plastique in the plane is
I want the plane to blow up      even if I’m on it
I’m not going to tell anyone where the plastique is.

C.  

What’s plastique?

B.  

The plane blew up the words blew up I don’t have what
Are they feelings?      I can be that one too.

C.  

Did you have a job?

B.  

What was that      oh money      Suddenly dead and there’s no money.

C.  

Are you still married?

B.  

What was that?

A.  

You remember enough to use words or are you
Are you using words or are we doing that?

B.  

We’re not doing that      We’re talking without voices

A.  

What exactly are you doing, in your estimation?

B.  

Com-      mun-      i-      cat-      ing!

C.  

It’s about a belt buckle      shine it clank it
I don’t really have it      turquoise and silver a way to
Think      even think to you.

F.  

Are we even different from each other
If we’ve forgotten our tragedies or even small things?

C.  

I      didn’t forget all of it.

B.  

Why can’t I forget things I didn’t do?

F.  

But who or what is defining us?
There was supposed to be a god and he had the
Definitions.

C.  

I don’t remember what a definition is
I’ve been dead longer      I don’t really remember what
Longer is      just that you say it.

E.  

But we’re troubled.

D.  

I really was two people, B!

B.  

Everyone is more than one that’s      what we’re all
Saying.

C.  

Am I?

G.  

And now what are we now?      Should we remember
I feel that we’re supposed to remember enough to . . . to . . .cohere
I mean without a body      And we remember how to say
Something to say      Something to say      soul

F.  

There was supposed to be a god.

A.  

I think that’s me      but I’m trying to think of another
Word for it.

E.  

It’s just a job      She’s always held it down
She’s showing us the face we can see      But she’s
The whole thing we’re in      But we’re each equal to
This experience.

D.  

I think      I think I’m in joy      But I never was be-
Fore do I want it      And the birds do they have to think
Do we each have to be . . .

E.  

Defined?

A.  

I don’t know      I’m only everywhere

B.  

I remember again being someone I never was      was I
I can’t select the one I want to say I was      As I knew
The location of the plastique on the airplane I dreamed I flew on
I don’t know why I wanted it to blow up      I saw a man
Of authority and didn’t tell him      I hadn’t placed it
But seemed to be the only one who knew      This made sense
Because your real identity is so deep anyone can seem
To be you      And now that I’m dead confronted with who I
Am only      who is it I am it and can’t escape the stranger.

A.  

If everything you might have done falls away like rags
Everything said      to be wrong or exceptional . . .

B.  

If the airplane was symbolic I still had the i-
Dentity of a mass murderer.

C.  

I was a murderer!

D.  

But that was war that wasn’t you!

C.  

It’s all I remember.

E.  

Not all.

D.  

We should remember anything we please
The memories don’t have to be ours after all ac-
Cording to the prevalent reasoning here.

E.  

“Prevalent”      a good word but shouldn’t we be
True to ourselves      I can’t say anything that isn’t
True to me.

D.  

How do you know?

F.  

Nothing none of this matters      don’t you get it?
There’s no matter and nothing matters except may-
Be there’s spiritual matter      we sort of see each other
And where we are      nowhere      darkness with light or a field
When E said crows I saw crows      and felt I was on an
Airplane when B spoke      But if I had been an ancient human
What would I see?

G.  

When I used to think I was under the bed      when I
These words      what is bed now      I used to think I was under it
I was lying flat on the bed      I thought I was under
Now there’s no “on” or “under” but I would lie there
And see that someone meant me harm      I was wrong
I’m not sure about the words “harm” and “wrong” —
And I saw four powers or forces      one time under the bed
Four round yellow lights that came to me with faces
Barely drawn on them      and spoke:

      I will help you get what you want
      one said if you’ll get angry
      I don’t think she’s playing you fair
      another said      The third said
      you are really . . .      what did the
      third and fourth say?      They may have
      started to teach me      The Old Language
      Because I was going to die young.

You actually have to find it The Old Language      Every word has to ring true . . .

E.  

When the words come from what I’m standing on
Come from the ground.

A.  

In English?

E.  

In Communication.

I stood watching the crows that wanted to attack me because . . .
It’s getting harder to remember what I did      To say it
Feels silly      To say that vicious birds were after me is
Better      There are no dreams here in death so what was once
Dreamed      is now a valid memory holding together
Holds the universe in place since something is remembered
Otherwise . . .

F.  

I remember that she no one here      had to stay in one room drinking
I don’t remember who she was anymore but I remember something
She wanted the feeling of being drunk      that was all she wanted
Never seemed like anything to me just a feeling      it would
Get harder and harder to talk to her      then she would pass out
There’s no way to judge these things      except whether or not
You wanted to be there      The wind would break things
It wasn’t yourself      There’s no wind here.

G.  

I may have been an emperor      I may have thought
I was divine      I may have been unable to leave that
Thought until now      we are all divine      we have no power
Do we?

C.  

We do have power because we never disappear      I
Have thought I wanted to but couldn’t      is that power?
You can’t destroy yourself      There is only
The power of being      stretched everywhere      it has
No rules no dimensions      the universe      can be contained

In a drinking cup or a small room      the universe of souls
Some used to say it could be held in your brain but brain-
Less one is it      And I’m still pricked by the memories of a per-
Son little sparks      though I wonder if I have the right
To remember      that I killed people      or . . . anything
What is the point      it holds us together      I want to re-
Member how to be a rock that would be better      But
I may be starting to remember . . . before I was born
When we left you A and the sun so tiny or so equal
Became all-important to one planet in a drinking glass      of infinity.

D.  

Is this then The Old Language? you might ask.

C.  

For I can speak in ways equal to my needs
Exactly      the mortaring of the Vietnamese school house      and I re-
Member what those words mean      right now but often
I remember playing      that’s all      playing.

A.  

I who am everything’s container or Great Soul I who was left
Before everyone’s birth      will never belong to myself
Can only love you . . .

C.  

You can’t belong to yourself you’re the only one
Who can’t . . .

A.  

I’m everything I can’t explain anything

F.  

Nothing has to be explained if you’re dead
Are we relating to each other? Or are we related
Does it matter I should ask      But there’s no act-
Ion nothing to do here      I haven’t been dead that long
It isn’t like the woman who only wanted to drink in a room
Though I see that some are brooding . . .      It isn’t like anything
Else though it feels familiar      It isn’t that jarring
That your circumstances or what you thought was your
Life don’t have that much to do with it.

B.  

My life had nothing to do with who I am here
The things I remember whose were they?

G.  

I was bowed down to      Do I remember that?

F.  

Wasn’t that useless?

G.  

It has become almost my only memory      that can’t be true
I am singular I am emperor.

F.  

A noun?

G.  

The one true noun      and I could have people destroyed
Killed by soldiers like C      the sun lit my way in the drinking glass.

F.  

Then you are . . . ancient.

G.  

There’s no time here.

F.  

I still remember time.

H.  

I am entering      I am still in pain but where is it?
It’s the only ghost      pain      I feel as if I know some or all of you
I can’t find my hat.

I.  

I’m      I’m in pieces I mean I’m blown up      but I’m one thing
I saw my body explode      I hovered above it one thing.
I don’t know when      it’s still true.

J.  

And I was shot      and I was shot on a street!

K.  

I’m entering too to listen but I’ll speak soon      I’ve been here be-
Fore I mean awhile as I slip into this form of language.

H.  

“This form of language”?

I.  

How did I get all my pieces back? if I’m one thing speaking . . .

J.  

You aren’t you’re dead this is to be dead      you’re all right . . .
I need to      need to speak      because      nothing bad happened
As far as I remember      except “loss” but that word doesn’t
Go here everyone’s here again everything’s here . . . without
Necessarily remembering who someone was to you or is
It that it changes to some . . . “stasis” is the word . . . from
Before you were born      Am I too starting to remember from
Before?      And if we are something to each other from before
But it’s in The Old Language      which I recently discovered
And since have lost certain memories and refound others . . .

B.  

Are they your memories?

F.  

Oh I don’t know      That I knew the woman who drank
Alone in a room      is a new memory      She did it to remember
In fact      something about her mother      The leaves were gold
Outside her window the autumn leaves that’s just language?

A.  

Which language?

G.  

I used to speak another language      or more than one
The people I knew had different minds      I think “minds”
From yours in the sense that the language they spoke in . . .
Their minds pulled them      no they were their minds their minds
Used them      But yours do too      They were we were . . . more
Cruel      maybe      Our words trapped others more . . . often
And to speak well      was the greatest art      Now we’re all
Dead      all of that people      and this is no tragedy happening to all
Our culture’s like a song      leaving the area of one’s
Ear      and I built roads and viaducts there are none here.

A.  

I remember that I am a vast cosmic texture or design
Like an all-encompassing but gentle storm or weather
A purple fingerprint but irregular because irregularity’s the norm.

E.  

And I watched the words that arose from beneath my feet
In the field in the dark entrap me      they named what I had done
Though I forgot it again      In the heart of human actuality
There is a play between words and action      they cannot be separate
The Old Language      But
The Old Language is for us here us where      there is no action.

I.  

Do I care about anything human anything I did as one
Will I be asked to care does anyone ask one to care?

B.  

You may ask yourself but I will never ask you.

I.  

I saw myself blown to pieces      I can never care what that bo-
Dy thought or do I care for someone my mother bent over my cof-
Fin and I am in it in pieces but I’m above it one thing      ludi-
Crous      where did that word come from “ludicrous”?
I learned it in school      the meaning of “school” do I care
About “school”?      What was I doing in a “war”      w a r
Does any thing — thing — make sense      what are those
“make sense”.

F.  

It’s not so bad here.

J.  

It was about . . . culture they said . . . race.

F.  

It all dissolves here.

J.  

But should it?      And it was what I “cared” “about”!

A.  

I care for you.

J.  

And that’s different.

A.  

I am care      So you don’t have to care about caring.

J.  

What do we do?

F.  

Excuse me but I have wanted so to speak      the intensity the juiciness
Of the physical      in earthly existence the colors tastes the senses not
As deceivers but factual by being there as they were —
Are embedded in The Old Language      here in mind they are
For we existed before      and Life came from us not from nowhere — do you follow?
I say that nothing is original with itself.

A.  

But I am.

L.  

Are you?

A.  

. . . I am the universe of soul I keep ever with
Me      that I am that I was once and always . . . Why should any-
Thing have a cause or source?      Things emanate from each
Other perhaps the way you are mirrors      but I’m on-
Ly light striking you all I ever      And have self none . . .

H.  

I get it      there’s no action      but that isn’t boring
You can only be bored in time.

C.  

There is something here that passes      there is a kind
Of change      But what you find was always there . . .
I am finding what I wish to find in myself
A goodness despite what I did but I have to hate
A word like goodness      as a word      before I can find it
I know I never was as I was defined      But I was
And outside of time . . .      But I knew I’d
Wind up here anyway      and what I did would too . . .

L.  

But your victims were in their senses!

C.  

We did become caught in a dream and cause it to . . .
Because “I” “didn’t” “do” “it”      I was dreaming I did
I dreamed I was a sniper in a war . . .      All of human
History dreamed, just dreamed, as B dreamed she
Collaborated with terrorists to blow up a plane!

M.  

Excuse me . . .      I’m sorry . . .      I may have been one
Of your victims . . .

N.  

Excuse me I am a “mountain”.

M.  

But I must discuss with C the concept of forgiveness!

C.  

I don’t know if forgiveness      has a thing to do with . . .
I would have to forgive myself and I don’t want to . . .

M.  

And if I forgave you      I who resisted and fought your
Vicious childish army?

E.  

How can you remember to be angry?

M.  

It is the surface of anger      a recall of its vocabulary

N.  

I am the soul of a mountain      we have no wars      Most
Of the universe knows erosion, collision, stasis
And such condition and process but not — war — I am listening
But your memories are almost of strangers though we be one
Thing the soul of previously gravitationally electro-
Magnetically unified matter      We are the souls of matter
That is our definition . . .

C.  

Are you suggesting      not you N but you M
That you might forgive me for killing you      if I killed
You      which neither of us will ever know?

M.  

For it seems to me that dead we are the same.

N.  

And could have been a mountain as well as anything.

C.  

And I would have shot you for that was my task
All I remember is that I kept track      of civilians though I
Was told not to report them      but I thought there should be
Some sort of account      accounting      But I’ll never know . . .

M.  

And I was a civilian.

N.  

To most of the universe’s souls who also “speak The Old Lang-
Uage” your conversation is gibberish.

C.  

You don’t have to forgive me
I hear that it is right for me to for-
Get      To forget and to remember
Are they properties a soul can con-
Trol?

A.  

There are no controls.

O.  

Excuse me for interrupting . . .
But we don’t know do we know what we are as souls?

E.  

I think we know everything about ourselves.

C.  

All remembering and forgetting being alive in death . . .
I can forget but then I might remember
Everything is still here      but not materially or really
The mind keeps it the mind is all there is      no place else for
Anything to go      No place for memory to disappear to.

M.  

Therefore you must let me forgive you . . .

C.  

I get it a ceremonial transaction.

M.  

A healing for both of us how shall we since
We are bodiless      though have these somehow “images”
I will simply say it      If you were the one who killed
Me I forgive you      and I forgive you anyway for hav-
Ing been the invading enemy.

C.  

Thank you for forgiving me      If I killed you I’m
Sorry      And I have cried out much though not nearly enough
Though to whom or what I’m not sure      And I gave as
Much of my guilt as I found to A      who accepts all troubles
As packages into her central self      but will there always be
More?

O.  

More thought for the soul seems to be mind but the soul’s
Composed as you say of both remembering and forgetting.

A.  

I am your heart      I am your heart!      No one should suf-
Fer      All your actions were illusions We are only real now!

K.  

Before I was born I was here safe      but with capacity
For I would be      genius and stupid      but it wasn’t like I took my pick
And there was a language      before I was born
My birth was an effective departure . . .      a leaving of grace
I left it I left here to become more . . .      what would you say?

L.  

Concentrated      Or what was it we wanted why did we
Suddenly want      something      Is it just a story that gets . . .

K.  

Accepted?      You keep telling yourself how it happened but
Really did      any one lousy thing      hap-pen?      We left that’s all
There was a leaving of the safe blissful country
That’s how you’d tell it      but first we had to learn how to tell
That was time. To tell a story.

D.  

We should tell anything we want to      We should make
Anything we want be true      We should say we remember what-
Ever      Or else I’m stuck with      a memory of and what was that?
“Mental Illness”      that I wasn’t formed like you      I’m
Searching for these      searing words again      Do I “have to”?
Which words mean a thing?      and the white dove the white
Dove flies deliberately into pointed wires and bleeds
But not recalling exactly      or how I left heaven the one of
Before I was born a baby      or what they call a Lunatic.

A.  

We were all there and then you left      perfect and then you broke it.
I never said anyone should leave me and live in a universe . . . you left me!

K.  

It’s . . . and I’m speaking it do you hear it      (mimes
Speaking)      You know what I say you just know what I
Say      It holds the silence together      (long moment of miming)
It isn’t gestural      I’ve always known what you were say-
Ing whoever you are      And oh the elephant souls impatient
With my tiny former language would say EXPAND
In their mind of it      All this soul all this soul like the one word BOO!

L.  

D, everything      everything they said about you . . .

D.  

I wasn’t real anymore      But I was      Here it’s far away
But I still locate a memory      professing to be true and hurtful
But what hurts if      I have no      I have no parts or part.

B.  

They would say      some would say I      am avoiding who
I am or was      Perhaps I had no one to be or wanted
Nothing definite within      in the way that you say who you are
I had no purpose . . .      Good.

P.  

I . . .      have no way to tell you what I am.

Q.  

Nor I.

R.  

Nor I.

P.  

I am something of no mind or body as even a cloud but
I speak The Old Language      I might be a bit of material
Intensity.

Q.  

I am very complex.

R.  

I took up a lot of “space” alive and am an aggregate of soul
Is that possible?      In unity without disorder but al-
So without regularity      I . . .      we . . .      billions . . .

S.  

I am a soul and that is the only thing that I am.

J.  

“Justice” I must think “Justice”      Cannot give in to The
Old Language      which is pulling at me that I’d forget about
What is right what I think is . . . I can’t remember      what it is or rather
It has no force      All force or power lies in existing      and I am though not a . . .
What was “body”?

Q.  

I think I was what you’d have called a body nebular . . .
Floating thinking in my way      Larger . . . now we’re all the same
“Size” the word “size” . . .

I.  

I had a happy childhood      then I was blown up      I
Had a childhood with others full of light . . .      full of bright
Light then blown up      It’s as if someone put my pieces back to-
Gether was it you A?

A.  

I concentrated very hard on you      I knew you had
To be put back together      As with much else I don’t know
How it was done      And you were dead for awhile
Then suddenly reappeared pale but whole . . . a whole soul
Is that real or true?

I.  

It’s real and true.

J.  

Justice . . .      will someone in my life exact justice for my shooting death on a street
I was supposed to say . . .      that . . .      what do I really want to say?
There is another way of speaking tugging at me
That the beauty I am reading off a . . .      slab of stone-like
Surface      Tells me that wasn’t my life      or even my pain
It was the active choice of an expiring collective a whim of
Everyone’s . . . least rigorous that is . . . tackiest thought
Your true life or self is here in death      it says      the former collective is gone.

P.  

It was that none like you were ever where I was or
In my mind till now      I find no descriptive means for my-
Self in you      I am consulting the tables of The Old Language
There is nothing but connection      Yes that was
What I was an entity composed of connections
That could also be connection outward . . .      to you . . .

S.  

Is that what I am too?      I’ve lost memory of all I
Was before . . .

P.  

I was . . .      probably material

H.  

Would anyone like to — I’ve forgotten — oh art let’s talk about
Art do we do that here?

K.  

(Mimes talking awhile, then)      Did you hear me talking about art?

H.  

I like the part about non-tangible representation and the
Colors of cognition      which seem to include both the bright and the subtle.

S.  

I have incorporated them into my incorporeal capacity
But I always knew the colors      The language that portrays
You so that you are      finally      doesn’t extend to me.

E.  

You do nothing here      so everything you do here is good.

A.  

You left me and so      but what follows isn’t      sequential until . . .
The creation of matter.

P.  

You never had a name for me      some bit of floating connectivity or matter.

Q.  

You called me “nebula”.

R.  

You called me “quasar”.

O.  

I messed up      I’m sure I messed up      Then I think I was the only
One that was right      What were we thinking of      what was I thinking
Politics poetry dance      the most avant-garde was what . . .
I like it here because I don’t have to worry about what I’m
Like      But traces of what I did bother me      Though like you others
I can’t always remember what I did      That I thought that I was
In some sense the only      the only one? one what?
The only one conscious or      liberatingly not conscious?
Am I conscious now are we conscious or only as conscious as
Birds once seemed do birds      have an unconscious      un-
Conscious was what?      Is my mind pleasingly formless?

T.  

I’m entering now have I been here before?
It was the repetition that I hated      taking the train
Walking to the same      This is like      repetition      as one thing
I don’t know who I was      it must not have been important
Or maybe I’ll know soon I’ll say I don’t yet know      who I was.

B.  

Do you remember being several others      or anyone at all?

T.  

I have no idea.

F.  

It’s possible that dying shocked you      that you’re like an amnesiac.

T.  

I don’t mind this condition at all.

S.  

But you’re not like me      a pure soul an essential being.

T.  

No or not yet      I’m clear that I’ve forgotten      but not how to talk
But where do the words come from      they feel like they’re supposed to have a
      source

O.  

As in your personality?

T.  

That word — personality — seems meaningless.

E.  

I feel as if I’m standing on the platform again near the
Crows      But they’ve lost interest in me      they’re turning away from
The fence      flying up head back to their trees      The words
Are still coming from below my feet      They enter what would
Be my body almost as if I could dance them      They
Were never learned      They are anything anything at all.

A.  

What do you “mean”      You all left me and made meaning . . .
You invented the damned universe!

E.  

You can save it because you’ve never really wanted to.

A.  

Why should it be saved?      in fact it’s dissolving      but
Needs to be loved because . . .      that’s all I can do
I’m doing it      loving it into self-recognition      as love, as it
Falls apart      But nobody knows I’m that one who
Loves because I don’t fit their image of . . . of . . .
They’ve, you’ve, trained yourselves to be “cut and dried”
Now here you are      becoming your souls      wondering why you
Bothered with all that      Survival shelter performance
Weren’t you all splendid!

E:  

I don’t know if I’m standing here because I’m guilty      or
Because someone wants to kill me      though they can’t      But in life . . .
Doesn’t someone always want you dead?      I’m
Paralyzed by having been thought ill of once by a pack of
Pseudo politicians who place a black wreath on my door
They run in packs they think they’re calling you
Out      like the crows the crows      a human vicious-
Ness that maintains that the group knows and the group
But why does it hate want to hate      why should it?

A:  

Why should you all have left me      But I’m now caught in reason-
Ing because you invented reason      It is often reasonable
To kill      It isn’t if you don’t practice reason      But reasonably . .
You’d realize you don’t really die, if you’d only remember.

C:  

The truth of existence isn’t reasonable who we are
I’m thinking of my bolo tie      turquoise silver it
Was my bolo tie not belt buckle      because unreasonably
I forgot.

B.  

The boy in the wheelchair was paralyzed      His mother made
Him a marshmallow-spread and peanut-butter sandwich
This is one true thing I guess      I was a volunteer
Everyone volunteers to be finally or not      Was I suicidal
Wasn’t that said to be a condition      Maybe I was that
Would that have made any difference?      I’d still be here like this.

G.  

Everyone thought I was a god      I don’t believe any emperor
Was suicidal.

N.  

The mountain too would die like everything else in
This universe      worn down in dissolution become dust
Then naught      With a guide      But I was your companion
If you saw me often      And I spoke to you in The Old Language.
Though you didn’t know.

S.  

I sort of knew who I was but it’s become texture
I don’t seem to need it anymore not full-blown I’m cov-
Ered in shimmering bits      it’s part of my non-specificity
Some specific “things” that probably “happened” after I was born
Right before I died. I guess I was a baby.

F.  

The woman who liked to drink alone in a room once said
That when she was young she was attractive      and that was part of
Being drunk      people got drunk with her a lot      Later
She just got drunk      I never liked to drink much I would just listen.

U.  

Nothing much happens      Or you would try to make it happen your-
Self and it wouldn’t      Then one day a big thing would come about
Dreadful      I could never make anything happen      I wanted
To lead you to glory      But I couldn’t define glory now I’m dead
I was told there was glory      or was it change      Or was it vindication
Or were all of those nothing?      Obviously they were nothing.

V.  

Oooooh!      There is no victory!      What word is right?      I’m covered with
Blood having died for . . .      I’ve forgotten!      Died for died for
All . . . the people I just killed are here . . . but the heaven for me . . . what is this?

A.  

It’s for everyone anyone      You must have believed what you were told.

V.  

This must be a bad dream I’ll wake up and kill you too
But the people . . . I recognize you I just plowed into you in a truck

W.  

Am I hurt      I mean not hurt now      am I dead?      I got run over . . .

R.  

This is all so different for us we are an aggregate a
Quasar system      I tended to speak for them but now they’re
Scattering      I hear their signals      radio signals in The Old Language.

L.  

I remember before I was born but I didn’t want to before
I valued so my friends on earth      and wanted only to be reunited
With my crazy mother.      But I remember we were all intimate
R were you like that?

R.  

It doesn’t correspond      Can’t find and they were blips
We reached each other across entity      The stars keep in touch
Grotesque?      and then one left dying the rest soul or souls
Of the dead      I was the huge one eye      Found out ev-
Ery thing without passion      It may be a meaningless universe.

A.  

If only people didn’t make others be a certain way by
Using words!      They force each other to believe what they say.

B.  

In The Old Language      which is largely      telepathic we speak
Composed of every that comes to be      as we go
And you see the florette or tree I present to you remembered in your
Mental eye then maybe a whistle or note      the word oh I
Don’t know, a layer of ice      Ice was good      An example      Hoo hoo      Ice cap

It came down      To be the ocean rising      Everyone’s jackals (yelps)      everyone
Tries to      l e a v e ! the flooding      or desiccated      locale.

M.  

In my I guess it was country      everyone teared up at songs
I can show you that in mind with      sad girl in jungle . . . image
The song is “Loss of Splendors”      goes by fast      we think fast
And it was lost      but somewhere it is      as words      or mind.

B.  

The mind plays all of a Bartok quartet to you
In one sec      Because you know it.

H.  

Interesting      I hear it.

J.  

Justice      the language says      being unnecessary      remember she is wearing
      cloth on
Eyes      that we don’t have cloth or eyes      but remembering fast      fast fast fast.

A.  

Does it have to be fast?

J.  

The words slower and superimposed on each other or scar
We don’t have that scar      It was sometimes beautiful      as symbolic
As a word.

U.  

I tried to get a scar.

V.  

I ran over those people in a truck      doesn’t anyone care?

A.  

Cars were your worst invention      You kill your planet with them . . .

U.  

I guess I’m a cynic couldn’t lead couldn’t follow why
Bother      Now am I only a language      or was I that always?

T.  

It sounds like we left here so we could be more      involved . . . in . . . in . . .

I.  

Okay I’ll just forget and remember      forget dying remem-
Ber pre-birth      I’ve always known all of you then and
Are you my pieces      my real pieces then?

A.  

I keep picking them up      Too many pieces      everyone’s
But there is an onslaught      of dead children here.

W.  

So . . . always the same of more . . . Mommy . . .

A.  

You are part of us now      It will be fine.

W.  

It hurt!

A.  

I know      Your mom will be along soon.

F.  

Child, this is your home.

W.  

But it hurt!

D.  

I remember you, little girl      But you weren’t in time.

L.  

It’s all tiny human activity      we were like ants
Though ants were like ants      and you can talk to them here.

K.  

I wanted to be safe here dead and I always was
That’s what you know      someone in you knew it

L.  

One of us      One of us would go first      dying or returning to “Be-
Fore Birth” like a scout      always is doing it      always is
Talking talking      I know it hurt honey.

P.  

It is pleasure to connect or communicate      Why      There
Has to be individuality first for that clear-
Ly to please for something to please      rationali-
Ty comes into existence after please BUT I I have absorbed all your castaway con-
Nections thoughtfulness I was tissue-like      what you may have been
Formed of      But there has never been any-      thing we nee-
Ded      Or did we form ourselves after pre-birth in order to —
To need?

Q.  

I suspect I had beauty      How I have a soul: everything
Does      How can that be: we are all of the pre-birth entity
For there to be this they said      there had to be a
Bit of something from somewhere else

A.  

It was and is      all of beauty . . .
I am doing this for you      there’s no way I can do any-
Thing for myself      Though I’m self-sufficient.

T.  

I can’t remember connecting to others      Maybe I tried not to
Maybe they were too selfish      Everything feels contradictory
It seems to me I may have been a priest      but what was that?

G.  

They read the entrails of birds      They killed animals in sacrifice.

X.  

I was a dove      all I know all I know oh oh oh
Am I and am I learn      am I am learning The Old Language?
So more beauty boundless      The shoreline of the river quickly.

Y.  

Hello. I think you thought I was tiny      a “virus”
Maybe I was in group soul      or maybe all of you were
Someone said “grotesque”      it isn’t in The Old Language . . . and
We thought of each other as splendid conquerors . . . brilliant mirrors I
Suppose      I do I remember before I . . . before there were viruses
I remember you, A      the memory of a soul of pre-birth      laced
With a possible knowledge      derived from a short life
You have to be able to remember how to take over repro-
Duce oh there’s only memory as has      been said where
Does it all go?      And soul      begins to remember how to be “here”.

S.  

To return to it is the only “nature”      Return to soul

V.  

What am I supposed to think of myself?

S.  

In The Old Language you will know.

V.  

I killed 84 people almost gleefully      what’s gleefully?

Y.  

I killed in an infinitude of . . .      reproduction      I have always been a-
Live in my race establishing myself through malady —
Can I even be dead?      Must I find souls of the others of my kind
To be near?      Or am I too finally soulful?

E.  

The Old Language:      it glitters like fibers      if you have eyes
You see the words that you say or think as “matter”
Spiritual matter      They are all there is      all I am.

F.  

A man once came into the store . . .      and that’s all
There were windows all across the front      Always sun
When you go to heaven you hold pools of light in mind!

Z.  

So finality comes and isn’t final
There was nothing to know      I was a queer who knew everything
But there was nothing to know.

G.  

I tried to extend and consolidate the . . . the empire . . .      Murdered
Well why not?      That I was murdered or that I murdered . .

A.  

Evil seems to be nothing      It’s just absorbed I absorb it loving      am
I helpless not if I’m everything      So it’s come down to this      I
Am it all      I’ve always been the only one willing to hold down the job
Is that it      The absorber of good and evil if those exist      All the lives
Come to me      Perhaps someone or something else is being it too . . .

Z.  

It’s you      it doesn’t matter if it’s you.

A.  

No it doesn’t      But it had to be . . . now I remember
I as if “I” were that word I am      being there being left.

G.  

There have been a succession of old languages      but only one
The Old Language      You      we      embodied it      and when we left you
Broke off into what we called words      differences      we were
Those      And mine was a civilization of orators      But poets
Made structures like people dense and layered and mysterious.

H.  

Everyone was always making art      Our minds here
Make it though      Can anyone make anything I
Suppose not everyone wants to make a thing      But we’re
Making art speaking.

G.  

I tried to construct a world      I perceived ev-
Erything as materials      for buildings      better than
We      than nature.

N.  

I suppose you think that I a mountain am “nature”.

Z.  

In The Old Language I am real      You are the real
One, A      but I am real get it? I don’t      want to be you
Or any      particularity      Sex the nothing that is,
Earth sex      has vanished into a still constant moment      nothing here
Has to build like the sex act does.

Q.  

It’s that I am      that’s      The Old Language      Purple or
Purpuration see it a cloud lit from within      then almost vanish
But never      I’m still talking in your mind      you are the monarch in
Your mind      I’m seeing my self in the mirror      of your mind.

O.  

I was swaying      I was swayed      I left you A, your transcendental
Hostel      Became obviously hostile      Camp obviator see
Collage word coilage or call to split      We tear away tore off
From A      Then there were pieces      and wouldn’t necessarily
Fit again      I see a fit I had once but I’m      whistling I cried and
Borrowed emotions      from wherever they come from
Maybe there aren’t any really      that’s right      Convey these
Thoughts now partly sung and stamped on non-existent paper.

Q.  

I get it how fast faster than anything that came after it
Is thought and your thought to me. So fast it’s static.

R.  

Bodies were locations even clumps of them      now souls are      no
Time and space though so they’re no-cations      So then you talk to a
Formerly small body.

X.  

Ooo-oo oo oo      I still speak too in my medieval lament
Though am never sorry      Died and eaten      it was always beauty.

K.  

The Old Language is our veritable stuff most essen-
Tial essence ah ha the only thing we are being a poetry
You cannot exist      dead or alive      without being poetry
Measured speech they used to say      but measure
Blends and stacks up and intertwines more and more to form
Do you get      it all that is so you’re doing it      right now.

X.  

Wings I remember I was wings and I was tried
But they were scalloped      Anyone here can “know” them.

Y.  

We killed so many larger than us      larger than us.

Z.  

I’m just not going to remember      I don’t know my lovers
It was all one night      one layer of melting snow renewed one breath.

T.  

I was out of breath I was very ill they closed my cof-
Fin had I died      I can’t remember the “established” sequence
Of events      So they were kind enough to carry me
I was already here      what would I do with my vocation dead?
What would I do with my love?      but I am that here
I am myself here.

A.  

I exist unwoven but adhering      and the slabs of words and fates
Appear dissolve alternatively      Going to be waves or particles
Thought or matter it says      people and thing      The dove will be-
Lieve its trajectory      The quasar will take eons to fall apart sig-
Nalling      And in my language the letters per-      vade my spirit flesh-like.

N.  

Before I was formed I loved you A wasn’t that enough
No at the time not for any of us or it      and we were one language
Worse we glowed of it      When I was wounded and stricken      during
The universe’s conception      becoming a mountain      when I was
Hurt I became able to endure and to inspire      in the new
Way of speaking      Did I have to do that      and I’m back and
Have nothing      What is it for?      There is no “for”.

R.  

And you are bigger than I am A      not as a human but as
The whole of “before one was born”      containing all its inscriptions
Appearing transforming dissolving      But we did stick together
The memory thing      Run it fast past you      That it doesn’t      “boil down”
The difference between us is now of no consequence there are no
Causes or consequences here      Sings it I’m singing it.

G.  

That is the only      the only power: that we are .

W.  

Mommy I don’t know what the word Mommy means
I am . . . do I become anything?

A.  

You always were it even before you were born.

W.  

What?

A.  

You.

W.  

Oh.

E.  

The Old Language      the language finally brings me peace
Transparent fibers of words that change      And I don’t have to stand here
But I like to feel them come into and maintain me in infinity.

D.  

Let me help you to      in our minds      step down.

S.  

I don’t have to remember anything specific
It might pierce me      I experience piercingness      but do I
“Experience”?      I was the love there was enough of me to last
Everyone had it or was it memory?      even the evil ones had it . . .

A.  

I take them all in      I just take them in      I have enough for everyone.

 


Alice Notley has published over forty books of poetry, most recently For the Ride (Penguin Books) and Eurynome’s Sandals (PURH) She has received many awards including the Academy of American Poets’ Lenore Marshall Prize, the Poetry Society of America’s Shelley Award, the Griffin International Prize, two NEA Grants, the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, a lifetime achievement award.  She lives and writes in Paris.

NOTE: From Peter Riley: ‘Alice can be seen reading ‘Play’ in Salford on 20th November 2019, here. This may be useful because it is long (actually almost an hour) and the video could keep you on track through the unrelenting precarious continuity here and there, though I wouldn’t want to attempt hearing it as it fully is without the script.

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