How We Cause the Universe to Exist
I don’t feel like playing all these games any more, I say. That there is a literary world with rules, judgment, just observation. People have jobs about what I write; other poets have doubts about it, or what. But I write or say whatever I want and not in the least for poets and scholars. It might be pleasant to be here, somewhere where I supposedly am, but I write into the void of the minds of everyone and everything, alive and dead, I am listening to it and recording it, I am writing of it over and over and at length. I am not engaged in anything otherwise named in the poetics-saturated conversation of my peers; they are each other’s peers but not mine, I say. I am listening to your voices and their towering or shuddering shapes. I have never appropriated, or borrowed, except from you and your shadow-lives—you tell me what to say, how it’s formed. You know nothing of genre because you don’t want to. You know nothing of fly-buzz quarrels; you don’t do categories; you don’t do self-important spam.
I am writing of it over and over and at length; because it is of endless length and reiterated—histories of genocides, sexisms and cultural plunder but also an endless creation of the universe, always from the beginning knowing multiple simultaneous pasts and futures—what then is the real memory, how we cause the universe to exist, is what it is, memory is every existence, including that of rock strata and atmosphere, how they continue. Everywhere inherent it tells us what measures we are taking, you tell me everything, you tell me how long a line is and where to set down my bizarre and narrow older feet.
Everything I remembered as a so-called child was not just because it was simple-ass rhythmical, as when there is rhythm and they teach it to you. There was always more than one rhythm trying to be said at the same time and I heard everyone trying to say it simultaneously. Oh how I like to go up in the air. Oh how I like to go up in the air. Oh how I like to go. . . I was a child, and she was a child, I was not a child, simultaneously. I am not a child, and she is dead. I am dead I have always been dead, haven’t you? Yes you all say from the void and the simultaneity of our thoughts blurs any line satisfactorily.
I will make a measure that I can change each time I read it, in that I can go fast or slow, change emphasis perhaps, change mood, sound ancient or American, but you will still see my own gnarled and bizarre feet. I will make you sing:
“One day, I awoke” “& found myself on” “a subway, endlessly”
“I didn’t know” “how I’d arrived there or” “who I was” “exactly”
“But I knew the train” “knew riding it” “knew the look of”
“Those about me” . . .
Why can’t I have those, those metrical feet? If I take LSD in my youth and observe that my gnarly high-arched feet swirl in place while I sit still my poem too will swirl in place, what have you the void to say to that? It is almost a blur you say, but it is a foot. We will teach you how to make us see it, so we can remember what it looks like. Sounds like you look, all the same sense, the mental one. I, I say, am trying to remember when I first knew you were all there and my mind a star held your lights to mine as I could but you each would slip out as you pleased and shine to me from the highest corner or outside the window. How I always remember is by pressing down slightly on the line. I mean you remember out of nothing—the empty mind. I always misremember it slightly, I do remember
All my life,
since I was ten,
I’ve been waiting
to be in
this hell here
all I’ve ever
But not where the lines break. I can’t remember that—I have to look it up, it is really one heroic epic line:
All my life, since I was ten, I’ve been waiting to be in this hell here with you; all I’ve ever wanted, and still do.
Or maybe it’s two lines—I would like to emphasize that doesn’t matter. But this isn’t hell, or maybe hell is beautiful: I want to remember that. Or M A Y B E Hell is beautiful. You almost sing it, if you sing it you’ll mess up the rhythm. Maybe. Or M A Y B E Hell is beautiful. You’ll mess up the subtlety. Some people sing it while simultaneously some people don’t. What immortal hand or eye dare frame thy fearful symmetry. Or as my friend Allen Ginsberg sang it: WHAT imMORtal HAND or EYE dare FRAME thy FEARful SYMMETRY? Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris/Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit/Litora . . . My high-school teacher being an ex-Jesuit taught me the Italian pronunciation of the Latin. Later, everyone else at college knew the Germanic pronunciation; the correct pronunciation: What do you the void think? We think the Aeneid is stubbornly there, no matter what, easy to remember but hazily mispronounced by whoever wasn’t an actual living Roman, as some of us in the void were or are, everything is still alive. Written or oral, written or oral? Oh it’s all in the mind. Even a koala bear’s—doesn’t know your language—understands something of me in the void.
Only memory exists but it has no chronology; only we and it keep the universe we are in place by remembering it, the universe (I sometimes say only communication keeps the universe in place—what electromagnetism and gravity are?). This is the definition of memory, and my poems remember everything, exist to create small and vast slightly blurred segmental entities—that probably could be scientifically measured, to hold it, the universe, together. We are only what we make. I am emerging from centuries that were obsessed with chronologies, bewitched by an idea of them and time the line, to relax again into the primal chaos where deeds and measures and perceptions swim with their dotted porous outlines. You can remake our universe of rigid outlines, or you can make a newer one, a pretty and muscular and musical not-hard-edged one, out of the old stuff newly unidentifiable.
I don’t believe anything though. Do you believe what we tell you? I am the one with the skills, I believe in my talent. I believe in your heart though I’m not sure I have one, I have an enormous void there to welcome in you the void.
The only problem with evolution being its linearity—a rather enormous problem, let’s say I never evolved except in an instant of time. So everything everyone all futures and pasts are with me as I begin a new poem, in the middle of a poem. I keep doing this. My skill is to do this and to see from here.
So, the void of voices says, do you really think that at this time or timelessness you can have anything to tell us back? I am in fact trying to help you with your suffering and sin; I can’t seem to help but try to help. For in all our futures intermixed here in chaos I see no alleviation of suffering even in death. I see that the dead are still sad, though better. But they remember—what we have to CHANGE is the nature of memory, the communication that insures that all the bits—us—of the universe are contiguous. We must now have a different universe to remember. Only a poet can effect this change and I your leader have embarked on doing this. On my in-motion and therefore not clearcut, strange and older feet. Do they exist in death? you say. You have an image of them now, don’t you, don’t you? I say. Feet are tacky, you say. So what? To evolve is tacky you say. I know I say and I have never evolved, for I am the poet.
If the purpose of the long poem is to remember the world into existing . . . but whose memory or what are we worried about? We think human memory is sufficient for remembering everything into place but there is obviously something else going on establishing relative permanence. The fabulous electromagnetism, gravity, stronger and weaker “interaction”? You—oh you scientist—must be describing something you don’t understand, as if telling a story or fib. So I am stuck with trying to find memory and to remember you, because I will never be anywhere else, though maybe the universe of the dead is different. We are all different from each other, you say. Are you my own memory? Not precisely for you and we are somewhere between words as if they themselves held us together, as when the great quasar spoke to you in your poem last year, for what else can we be but a poem and all of the real is that, just that, that is words but not words and measure breaks the heart the heart of it, insisting that there is a hierarchical structure to “I love you.” But there MUST NOT BE a hierarchical structure to “I love you.” We cannot have the poem without measure, that which tears us apart. (And brings us back together.)
I am constructing my memory and it is THEE memory. Thee. Memory, you must listen to me as I exhort you not to believe in a line but simply to hold; not to believe in events or their borders but possibly to greet them, say hello. Because stories are untrue. We must believe in a story; the stage on which it’s enacted—that might be stage, page, air, or life space—is to represent oneself so thou might see me, though never will I see myself. I see my hands and my feet. You see, you say, the lines of flowing essence of your feet—the feet of your feet. I, I say, see them and I simultaneously hear them by ear, knowing the old puns and how they further bring us together: in the beginning was the Pun, that placed us, compressed us in the same place or room or line. But what of beauty, the line I might relax and rest in, ride awake or almost asleep as if I were Psyche or amber or infinite chairs lined up to sit in, resting one’s feet?
We know, the void says you are saying sorts of which you always say by sound almost with lots, but we can tell that this time though you know the sound you don’t know what you’ll say.
I wanted to show you something, where the ice broke or pain broke encircling the void you, and your and my minds stood about its edge on feet or not if so many of you are dead, but our minds stand round each one being the void itself too and we are waiting or being or seeing what, for we are here to make new lines or images or sounds or thoughts, but we hesitate to delineate what a line is as we go on in a state, at night the states. Here the opening lines of my not-that-long poem “At Night the States”:
At night the states
I forget them or wish I was there
in that one under the
stars. It smells like June in this night
so sweet like air.
I may have decided that the
States are not that tired
Or I have thought so. I have
At night the states
And the world not that tired
Maybe. Honey, I think that
to say is in
light. Or whoever. We will
replace You. We will never re-
place You. But
in like a dream the floor is no
To me it doesn’t please me by
being the vistas out my
window, do you know what
Of course (not) I mean?
I have no sweet dreams of wake-
wakefulness. And so to begin.
Do you know those lines by heart you ask, somewhat but not entirely, if you know something entirely by heart it can’t change the next time you look at it. Here are the last few lines, of my seven-or-eight-page poem “At Night the States”:
At night the states
you who are alive, you who are dead
when I love you alone all night and
that is what I do
until I could never write from your
I don’t want that trick of making
it be coaxed from
the words not tonight I want it
myself but being not that. But I’d
comfortable about it being words
were if that’s what it were for these
States where what words are true
Not myself. Montana. Illinois.
But that was years ago and why I had to live and have a personal appearance, own feet, is still escondido hidden. I have tried out so many different lines, I say, because I know they all swim within you the void and your multifarious languages and presumed primal one—but I who am exact am still escondido hidden. As is my best line the true measure of all the stars and the quasars’ vibrant kisses. My lines, all my lines break and bend into multitudes of possibles—in fact coincident existents—and whatever I say remembers each: though it projects a confident singular outline. Because the poetic voice trembles, it is not as controlled as the singing voice: it isn’t trained thank heaven and keeps hearing as it sounds, overtones and more overtones. The singer varies her performance by trying to sound like a poet—phrasing, expressiveness, shape. The poet reading aloud feels all the possibilities rebelling against shape. Oh ride it, but what is it?
We have to invent a line or we won’t cohere. Repeat. We have to invent a line or we won’t cohere. My feet change into wrecked cars, but I always keep going, until I have a line, uncertain and untraditionally defined, but I know it’s mine and until one of you, one of the most bizarre of you of the void, would respond to my line from within it. I create memory, I create fate and premonition again:
There are white cars from the late ’40s wrecked in moonlight
We are letters they say and the flesh of my heart that
Exterior to me beats because I’m outside it dead
You can smear the space night air on it’s silent and shakes
I hear palpitations earless is it because I already know or
Why do I see the journey it’s been taken before words see and
Hear themselves from another time and climate also from the first
There it is calmer than a troubled mountain I mean within us
It would use me then what for it is troubled some-
Thing I approach a mash of language or saying
You can hear something windlike telling you you’re
Here I’m always here I’m always doing this this seeking
If I find it what point if I continue on counting crossties
People following me single file ticking off their minutes
This and then so what whistles I’m just these words it
Says anything alike straightforward mine my
Can’t you talk to me qualities it’s a problem that simply I
There’s us it says and anticlimactically I just start talk-
Ing are you a structure I think so are you in the
Earliest days of itself I say and in the latter days of strife
Everything would seem to be a given we are the divine it
Says what good’s that at first when you circle around to the be-
Ginning door I was there with my musical tremor
The words are formed from I hear your own vastness count-
Ering you don’t have to translate anything I know
To the for-
And she told
Me I would
I went to the
And told me
You are a
Said why set-
Tle for border-
I would have
All the borders are confused it says except
For between us you can cross it but it’s
Not confused it says between words or tones I say be-
Tween the betweens get smaller then we coin-
Cide what and I’ve done that before what do I do a-
Bout that I can’t remember why I came here the green void
Or voice it is the first one of me I say my first voice
I’m not really here where I say I am the trouble is you are
Where else would you be somewhere unconstrained also indi-
Vidual to me no one else wanted where I began I
Say if we’re in death where are we and is it the structure dead
I haven’t kept life and death separate of course not it says I
In the iconography of senses and science am a quasar group
And I don’t want to decide what you might be that is
An individual choice too death isn’t but you can name your
Own death whatever you want to it says I guess I am a we
I’m not sure I say what you are for me I might be look-
Ing for something like caritas or to be that I’m not really
A scientifically defined entity it says I don’t want that either
I’m large and
You might I say to it half chanting be a suicide
Room you might be a death of the universe room you might
You might be so old that because you’re so big you’re at the
End except you’re maybe so big you’re endless as I am
Extending myself I say from before the beginning to af-
Ter the end in your it says iconography it says I’m finite but
Don’t feel that way like you several of my gigantic times
Loaded on but sing too past all boundaries
Of time trembling everyone can always remember the
Sound of my voice for as you or someone just said
Memory is everywhere everywhere no one can kill it-
Self or selves I have embraced as much as I
Could it says of the structure we are but there’s so much
They tried to make me enter I say the suicide room but
I wouldn’t go in turn on the lights my selves like yours
My decades my children cry out with me turn on the lights
Written for the colloquium Memoria de la memoria/Remembering Memory/Mémoire de la mémoire, held at Casa de Velazquez in Madrid, April 2014.
ALICE NOTLEY's latest book is Certain Magical Acts.